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Playoffs? For Panthers? Playoffs? For Some, Yes

Playoffs The Panthers will not be in the playoffs this season, but that doesn't mean some of their players won't get a taste of the postseason.

A number of players will participate in the playoffs of some sort once Florida plays its regular season finale April 11 at BankAtlantic Center against Tampa Bay.

Veteran players like Nathan Horton, Stephen Weiss, Tomas Vokoun, Rostislav Olesz and others will likely be contacted by their national teams to play in the World Championships – a tournament that starts May 7 in Germany.

“I think any player who is invited should go,'' said general manager Randy Sexton. “It's a great experience, a chance to play a different type of hockey in a different situation. If you're healthy, you should go.''

The World Championships is a tournament made up mostly of NHL players whose teams didn't qualify for the Stanley Cup playoffs, therefore, the Panthers have had plenty participate over the years. European professionals also make up the international rosters.

Horton has is said to have angered Team Canada management over the years by declining offers to play in the Worlds. One season, he didn't play citing his upcoming contract negotiations. Horton, understandably, didn't want to get hurt while his agent was working on a deal. Horton ended up signing a six year deal in the summer of 2007.

A good number of Panthers will head back to the minors once the season is complete to help Florida's AHL affiliate in Rochester, N.Y., make a run at the Calder Cup.

The Americans could use the help as they are making their first trip to the playoffs since 2007 when Buffalo and the Panthers shared the affiliation.

“I think all the guys here can help them,'' Sexton said. “It's a grind in the American League and we have a good team there. Those guys going back will a shot in the arm. It's good for both of us.''

Rochester will be getting some players who have gained very valuable experience at the NHL level, with center Shawn Matthias playing strong just about every night. Defenseman Jason Garrison has also played well as his responsibilities have increased at the big league level. Keaton Ellerby, Steve MacIntyre and Victor Oreskovich will also be heading back.

“The playoffs are what you work for so to have the opportunity to play in them is something I'm looking forward to,'' said Garrison. “As you get more time here, you get more confidence and you feel more comfortable down there.''

The Panthers would like to be in the playoffs themselves, but are excited that some of their younger players will be able to experience the pressures of postseason play. Florida's AHL teams haven't been to the playoffs much in the past decade, with the San Antonio team going in 2003.

Florida hasn't been to the playoffs in what will become an NHL record-tying nine seasons.

“It's a valuable experience to be in the playoffs and you only get better by being there,'' said Matthias, who has six goals and seven assists in 27 games with the Amerks this season. Matthias has six goals in 48 games with the Panthers in 2009-10.

“In junior, I played my best in the playoffs. Every shift counts. I think if you finish strong in the playoffs, it carries over into the next season.''

-- Center Stephen Weiss is having a career year, setting a personal high in goals (27) and is four points away from tying last season's career high with seven games still to play.

That doesn't mean Weiss is enjoying this season. With the Panthers playing out the stretch – again – Weiss says he measures his success with that of the Panthers. And Florida could end with its fewest points since getting 75 in the season before the lockout.

“I don’t pat myself on the back for individual success. I do the best I can to help the team win and try to get this team to the next level,'' Weiss said. “It’s frustrating when you don’t see results as a team. It gets to you over time. We’ve got to find a way to get this thing going in the right direction.''


When, Where: 7 p.m.; HSBC Arena, Buffalo

TV/Radio: No local TV; WAXY 790

The series: Sabres lead 37-22-4

The game: Buffalo has already sewn up a playoff spot and will have three players from AHL Portland in the lineup with Thomas Vanek, Tim Connolly and Patrick Kaleta out with injuries. The Sabres have won six of seven after beating Boston on Monday. Florida has lost three straight and six of eight. This is the last multi-city road trip of the season. After playing in Boston on Thursday, the Panthers only have one more road game left – Saturday April 10 in Tampa.