Below is the raw copy of my gamer from tonight. Here is the link for the edited copy.
Above is a picture of Steve Eminger (forefront) and general manager Jacques Martin watching the end of the Boston game from my laptop.
On right, Nathan Horton and Rostislav Olesz watch the end of the Bruins/Canadiens game on the laptop.
BY GEORGE RICHARDS grichards@MiamiHerald.com
ATLANTA – All the Montreal Canadiens had to do was get one point and the Florida Panthers would be out of the playoffs.
The Panthers had just beat Atlanta 3-2 to keep their playoff hopes alive. One by one the players moved into a hallway outside their locker room to watch the Canadiens-Boston game on a laptop computer. As the seconds ticked away in the tie game, the Panthers knew they were done.
Brett McLean cursed, then headed to the showers. Radek Dvorak, clad only in a white towel, continued to stare at the computer's screen as if he couldn't believe it. Nathan Horton shook his head and headed to the bus. General manager Jacques Martin wasn't far behind him.
Montreal lost to Boston in overtime, but the final score means nothing to the Panthers. With Montreal getting one point and the New York Rangers beating Philadelphia, the Panthers were eliminated from the postseason once more. Florida has now missed the playoffs for eight consecutive seasons, the longest active streak in the league and second longest all-time.
''We left it up to other teams to lose,'' said Jay Bouwmeester. ''When you do that, it's never a good situation. We lost some pretty key games down the stretch. When teams were struggling, we didn't take advantage. We have no one to blame but ourselves. At the end, it really doesn't matter.''
Coach Pete DeBoer said before Thursday's game that he was confidence ''someone would drop the ball,'' meaning either Montreal or New York would falter in the final two games of the season. But the Rangers, who only needed a win to edge out the Panthers, jumped to a 2-0 lead over the Flyers and goalie Henrik Lundqvist held on for the 2-1 win.
Florida knew soon after its win over the Thrashers that New York had won. The Panthers only chance was a Montreal loss in regulation. The Philips Arena in-house system had every other game in the league going but couldn't pull in the only one the Panthers cared about. So, the team was forced to gather in front of a sports writer's computer to see their fate unfold.
''It's disappointing,'' DeBoer said. ''The goal from Day 1 was to get into the playoffs. I'm proud of our group. I couldn't ask for a better group of professionals to work with as a first year coach. We created an identity. We had some deficiencies in some areas that became obvious as the season went on, but it was never for lack of effort or commitment to the game plan.''
Florida didn't look like it was keeping to its plan early Thursday, the Panthers looking slow against the Thrashers team with nothing to lose. Atlanta flew by the Panthers, and took a 1-0 lead in the first when rookie Zach Bogosian scored his first of the night. Bogosian's goal came on a power play, not long after the Panthers were able to kill off a 5-on-3 disadvantage for two full minutes when Richard Zednik and David Booth each took penalties on the same play.
The Panthers tied the score in the second, Nathan Horton knocking in a puck that originally wasn't ruled a goal. Horton's shot went across the line, hit the back of the cage and came back out into play. Cory Stillman continued to play the puck, but when play stopped, NHL Central in Toronto reviewed the play and it was obviously a goal.
Atlanta took a 2-1 lead in the third when Bogosian scored again, but 50 seconds later, Stillman deflected a long shot from Gregory Campbell and knocked it through to tie the score. With 4:25 left, David Booth knocked in a shot to give Florida its first lead of the night. ''We gave it a chance,'' Booth said. It was a big one because it lasted, Tomas Vokoun making 23 saves for the win.
''After the first 10 minutes, we played really well,'' Vokoun said. ''It was tough playing a team with nothing to lose, especially because we had so much. I'm proud of the guys. We battled hard and won the game. That's all we could do.''
The Panthers have won five of their past seven games, but a rough stretch in March obviously cost them a trip to the postseason. Despite not making the playoffs again, the Panthers say they are excited about the future. The team has a pretty solid core group and made terrific strides. Thursday's win was Florida's 19th on the road this season, one shy of last year's franchise record.
Florida has 91 points, its most since the 1999-2000 Panthers earned 98. A win Saturday in the season finale against Washington would bring 93 points – the second-most points in franchise history. Last year's team ended with 85.
''There's a good foundation here,'' DeBoer said. ''The key is to keep it and add some pieces. I think we're real close.''
LONGEST NHL POSTSEASON DROUGHTS
Colorado/New Jersey 1978-1987
FLORIDA PANTHERS 2000-ACTIVE