Facebook: On Frozen Pond
With 11 games left in their regular season, the Panthers promise they aren't looking too far ahead.
Although they pulled off their fourth straight win for the first time since 2008 on Saturday against Buffalo, veteran players know how quickly things can change.
(Top Photo: Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)
Florida went 4-0 on its four-game homestand that ended with a 3-2 shootout win over the Sabres. Now, the focus is on what's next: A quick two-game trip to Philadelphia and Carolina. The Panthers' last regulation loss was a 5-0 whipping at the hands of the Flyers in Philly; Florida is 4-0 against the Hurricanes this season.
“We're not looking ahead but we know we want to bank as many points as we can right now,'' said defenseman Ed Jovanovski, who has played in 69 postseason games – including 27 with the Panthers in 1996 and '97.
“We want to keep climbing the standings as much as we can. There are a handful of games left and they aren't getting easier. It's going to be tough getting points now.''
Although the Panthers are riding a wave of momentum right now, it wasn't too long ago the team was reeling. The 5-0 loss in Philadelphia on March 8 was Florida's seventh loss in 11 games. It looked like Florida's hope to end the NHL record postseason drought at 10 seasons may not come true.
(Middle photo: Courtesy of Kelsey Hinds)
Today, however, the Panthers are rolling. Four straight wins came off Florida's 2-1 shootout loss in Pittsburgh. That game in Pittsburgh, a night after the loss in Philadelphia, may have just saved the season.
“That was huge,'' said alternate captain Stephen Weiss, now in his 10th season with the Panthers.
“Just the way we played that game, the way we bounced back. We had a real gritty effort against a great hockey club and it gave us a lot of confidence coming home. We were able to keep that kind of game going and it translated into some wins.''
Coach Kevin Dineen admits the Panthers struggled for points for a few weeks. “We crawled through the 70s,'' he said, meaning Florida got its 70th point of the season on Feb. 26 with a win against Montreal. The Panthers didn't cross the 80-point plateau until beating Boston last Thursday – nine games later.
“It took us a while to go from 70 to 80 and it was no fun looking at the standings during that time,'' Dineen said. “We want to be up in the 80s and hopefully we can keep a strong trot as we head toward the 90s.''
According to sportsclubstats.com, the Panthers (who have 83 points with 22 still on the table) can go 5-5-1 down the stretch and still have a 99.9 percent chance of making the playoffs – with an 84 percent chance of doing so as the division champion. Florida holds the third overall seed in the east because it leads the Southeast, although the Panthers are within striking range of second.
“A lot of guys in here are playing a little banged up, but they've battled through it,'' said John Madden, a three-time Stanley Cup champion. “It’s fun to be invested in this dressing room. We can see that we’ve got 11 left now and we’re gunning toward it and we’re trying to get our game to where it needs to be to play playoff hockey.”
(Bottom photo: Courtesy of David Ortiz)
() How good a season is Brian Campbell having? Campbell's three assist night on Thursday was his fifth game this season with three or more assists.
According to Elias Sports, Campbell had a total of four such games in his first 11 NHL seasons.
Campbell has already tied Robert Svehla for the Panthers' career record for most games with three or more assists by a defenseman. Svehla had three such games in the 1995-96 season.
“That's a guy who plays 25-plus minutes and can skate all night,'' said Lindy Ruff, who coached Campbell in Buffalo. “He's a great competitor, we all know that. And he laid out [Brad] Marchand in the Boston game. That put a smile on my face.''
() Elias also notes that Madden, 38, is the oldest player to score goals in consecutive games for Florida since 40-year-old Gary Roberts did it in 2006.
() With the junior league Red Deer Rebels not making Canada's Western Hockey League playoffs, the Panthers could assign defensive prospect Alex Petrovic to their AHL club in San Antonio as early as Monday.
Petrovic, a second round pick in 2010, will be on an amateur try-out basis for contractual reasons and is eligible for the AHL postseason.
Petrovic, who concluded his junior career with Red Deer on Saturday against the Edmonton Oil Kings, had 12 goals and 48 points in 68 games.