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Eight is Enough Redux: Should the Panthers Tank It?

FranktheTank OTTAWA -- A few weeks ago, Panthers coach Pete DeBoer said he was coaching every game to win and not giving up hope that his team could make the playoffs until it was mathematically eliminated.

On Saturday evening, Gregory Campbell said he would play with a broken foot to help his team make the postseason.

``We still have a chance here,'' Campbell said.

After Saturday's loss to the Senators, it seems like reality has finally hit the Panthers.

Publicly, anyway.

Florida goes into Monday's game against visiting Nashville with only the slimmest of postseason chances. They reside near at the bottom of the Eastern Conference -- nine points down and a handful of teams away from the eighth and final spot with just eight games left.

Draft No, the Stanley Cup playoffs will not be making a stop in South Florida again this spring. For a record-tying ninth season (and record-breaking 10th year), the Panthers will be out of the postseason.

``I don't really want to be talking about it,'' said alternate captain Stephen Weiss, who, if he plays out the string, will have played 481 regular season NHL games without tasting the playoffs even once. ``You only get so many years to play, and for me now, I'm eight years in or whatever it is, and I haven't played a playoff game. And it looks pretty dim right now. It's frustrating.''

Captain Bryan McCabe came into an empty dressing room Saturday night knowing what would be asked before it was. McCabe has been to the playoffs four times in his career -- but not since the prelockout playoffs of 2004 with the Maple Leafs.

The realization that the Panthers have been out of it has been lingering for weeks. Right before the trading deadline, general manager Randy Sexton sent three veteran players to contenders for draft picks. The message was sent: Not only weren't the Panthers adding to their current roster, but they were selling. The future is not now.

Thomasthetank ``Yeah it sucks, but we've got no one to blame but ourselves,'' McCabe said. ``We put ourselves in this spot. Like I've said before, we've been very inconsistent this year. There's no other way to look at it.''

Last year at the deadline, then-GM Jacques Martin chose to stand pat. By keeping pending free agent Jay Bouwmeester, Martin was sending a message that the Panthers were a playoff team, and Bouwmeester would help that.

What actually happened is the Panthers lost eight of their next 10, missed the playoffs and lost Bouwmeester to Calgary.

Bouwmeester is faring no better with the Flames, who also are on the outside looking in. If he finishes the season, he could play 553 games without going to the playoffs.

Some fans would love to see the Panthers tank their final eight games and put themselves in prime position for one of the coveted top picks in the NHL draft.

But losing games on purpose isn't something hockey players do. The Panthers might not have a winning record, but they say they will continue to play hard.

Dunktank In fact, the Panthers could play spoiler. Boston, Florida's opponent on Thursday, is hanging on by a thread. The Rangers, who visit Saturday night, are in the hunt for eighth spot.

The way they look at it, they owe the game that much. They owe themselves that much.

``It's our job to play hard every night, no matter if we're in it or not,'' said McCabe. ``You've got to have pride in what you do out there. We need to win as many games as we can.''