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Playoff Presure? Nope, Not Here ... Jiggs McDonald to fill in for Randy Moller


So, those who e-mail me saying I should stop talking about how the Panthers haven't made the playoffs since 2000 can relax.

According to a couple players and coach Pete DeBoer, that doesn't bother them all that much.

Sure, its a postseason drought that could tie an NHL record if the team fails to advance once more this season.

Some might think that pressure weighs heavy on the players and coaches.

For some, it may just be. For others?

“Listen, we have nothing to lose here,'' said Keith Ballard.

“No one expects us to be in the playoffs because we haven't been in the playoffs in forever. I haven't been there, a lot of guys in this room haven't been there. Lets just leave it out there.Ballard3 We don't need to be in the playoffs today or tomorrow. We just need to be there after Game 82.''

DeBoer says the current crop of Panthers shouldn't have to be completely linked to the failures of the past. There are only a handful of players – Stephen Weiss, Nathan Horton, Rostislav Olesz – who have been with the franchise for more than five years. Players like Ballard, Bryan McCabe, Jordan Leopold, Cory Stillman and Dennis Seidenberg have only been with the team for two seasons.

“I don't think our group carries around that nine year baggage with them on a daily basis,'' said DeBoer. “Maybe that should upset people who think it should. But the reality is I've only been a part of this a couple of years. There's only a few guys who have been part of it more than a handful of years. I don't mind playing the underdog role and flying under the radar.''

Of course, the longer the Panthers stay out of the playoffs, the more that stigma sticks to players like Weiss. When the Panthers were in Toronto earlier this month, The Globe & Mail did a feature on Weiss and how he's carrying the franchise's flameless torch much like Olli Jokinen, Roberto Luongo and Jay Bouwmeester had in the past.

Weissislanders If the Panthers don't make the playoffs again this year, Weiss (barring injury) will have played close to 500 regular season games without participating in the postseason.

During the lockout of 2004-05, the Panthers had Weiss and Bouwmeester playing for their AHL affiliate in San Antonio; when the playoffs came, the Panthers loaned them to the Chicago Wolves so they could get some postseason experience.

Those are the only pro playoff games either player has participated in to date.

The Panthers hope that changes this spring. Florida came into Sunday in 12th place in the east, four points out of sixth place. The team has talked about what it needs to do to stay in the postseason hunt, and Ballard said looking at last year's Carolina team can give the Panthers hope.

Last season, the Hurricanes were out of the mix but stormed into the playoffs and knocked off New Jersey in the opening round. Carolina lost to the Penguins in the Eastern Conference finals.

“In the second half, there's always one team that steps up as another takes one step forward and two steps back,'' said Ballard. “We can't be that team. We have to put something together. We've gotten some points and we're starting to do the little things well. We had a meeting and talked about where we want to be at the Olympic break. We want to make a run for it.''

To make it, the Panthers have to win games or at least pick up the odd point here and there. The Panthers have won two straight and have taken five of the past six available points.

After Monday's game against the Thrashers, the Panthers travel to the New York area for games against the Devils and Islanders. The Islanders came into Sunday holding the eighth and final playoff spot in the east.

“There's always a team that catches fire in the second half and charges into the playoffs,'' said DeBoer. “It has to be us this year.''

Moller2  -- Radio voice Randy Moller had a health scare after Saturday's game and was taken to a local hospital.

Thankfully all is well. Moller is said to be resting up and doing fine. He was released from the hospital Sunday and is back at his home in Palm Beach County.

Jiggs McDonald, a Hall of Fame broadcaster who once called Florida games on radio, will replace Moller in the booth for Monday's game at least.

Jiggs McDonald, best known for his work calling Islanders games during their dynasty years, could travel with the team for the upcoming trip to New York.

Aside from working for the Panthers and Islanders, McDonald -- who resides on Florida's west coast -- has also worked for the Kings and Flames as well as national outlets.

Feel better Molls!