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Florida Panthers Need to Forget Recent Past, Move Toward Future ... Panthers Visit Detroit After Day Off ... Final Week of Season Underway

50firstdatesBY GEORGE RICHARDS grichards@MiamiHerald.com

TWITTER: @OnFrozenPond

FACEBOOK: On Frozen Pond

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Forget, forget, forget.

That has to be the Panthers mantra these days after losing five of their past six games. Of course, that's much easier to do in theory than in reality.

Coach Kevin Dineen gave his battered troops Saturday off after a brutal two-game stretch in which Florida held a 2-1 lead in Minnesota before losing that with 30 seconds left and losing in overtime. On Friday, the Panthers got blown out by the worst team in hockey playing a 22-year-old goalie making just his third NHL start as Columbus rolled to a 4-1 win.

With losses to five teams already booking summer cabins in its past six games, things don't get easier for Florida as it visits league power Detroit on Sunday. Then comes the final three games against a scrappy Winnipeg team, a Washington squad trying to overtake the Panthers for its fifth straight Southeast Division title and a season finale Saturday against TotalrecallCarolina.

Yes, the final week of the season is upon us. The Panthers hope this isn't their last week of said season.

“This road trip is all about getting as many points as we can,'' Scottie Upshall said. “Sunday's game, right now, is our biggest game of the season. This is where our attention has to be.''

Dineen has preached “amnesia” is the best remedy for stretches like this, although before hitting this recent rough patch, the Panthers won five straight for the first time in four years. So although the Panthers should forget about what's happened lately, they also should remember what it felt like not too long ago.

“We are .500 on this road trip so a win Sunday makes it a good road trip,'' said Brian Campbell, whose team has gone 1-1-1 in the first three games of the trip. “Anything is possible.''

Scoring some goals sure would cure what ails the Panthers. In the past six games, Florida has scored a Backtofutuetotal of nine goals. Florida scored a grand total of three in losses to the Wild and Blue Jackets – two teams who cashed in their playoff hopes long, long ago.

Detroit is not one of those teams. The Red Wings are fighting for the top seed in the Western Conference. That may actually be a good thing for the Panthers. Instead of playing a loose team with nothing to lose, Florida and Detroit will both be focused on winning. 

“Detroit is a fun place to play and a great challenge,'' Campbell said. 

() According to sportsclubstats.com, the Panthers went into Saturday with a 95 percent chance of winning the Southeast Division just by going 2-2 in their final four games; by going 1-0-3, the Panthers will clinch the division for the first time in franchise history. 

Elias Sports Bureau reports that only one team lead its division with five games left and didn't make the playoffs – and the Panthers had a hand in that. In 2007-08, Carolina had led the Southeast from the start of the season until the final day when it was overtaken by Washington. 

CanesThe Hurricanes could have clinched the division in their season finale on April 4, 2008, yet lost at home to the Panthers. Carolina then needed Florida to beat the Capitals the following day. The Panthers lost 3-1 and Washington claimed what became the first of its four straight division titles. Carolina dropped from the third seed in the Eastern Conference to ninth and missed the playoffs by three points.

() Kris Versteeg is obviously still dealing with the hip injury that shut him down for nine games as he hasn't scored since Feb. 12. Versteeg got an assist on Tomas Kopecky’s goal against the Blue Jackets – his first point in nine games. 

Versteeg3Versteeg is still second on the team with 22 goals and fourth with 50 points. 

“I liked his game in Montreal, thought he had some bounce to his step,'' Dineen said. “He was moving his feet, creating some chances. He's a valuable piece, plays on both sides of the special teams. He's a valuable part of our team. There will come a time when his skill will pop open. It's coming. We have plenty of confidence in him. He has his work boots on right now. That's most important.''

() The Red Wings will likely be watching Stephen Weiss very closely Sunday as the Florida center has three goals and four assists in eight games against Detroit.


RedwingsWhen, Where: 4 p.m.; Joe Louis Arena, Detroit

TV/Radio: FS Florida/WQAM-560

The series: Detroit leads 13-4-5

The game: The banged-up Red Wings should be nice and hungry for the Panthers after losing two straight, first in Columbus on Wednesday and then to Nashville on home ice Friday night. The Panthers, who have lost five of six, are 0-4-1 against Central Division teams. Florida won in Detroit two seasons ago for the first time since 1996.