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Florida Panthers: Saturday Last Chance for Elusive Division Championship ... Carolina Canes Want to Spoil the Party

BACbannersBY GEORGE RICHARDS grichards@MiamiHerald.com

TWITTER: @OnFrozenPond

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WASHINGTON – It's been a long time since the Panthers raised a banner to commemorate an on-ice achievement. In fact, the last time they did it, they did so in their old arena near downtown Miami.

On Saturday night, the Panthers can add to their meager collection by winning their first division title in franchise history.

A win over Carolina in the regular season finale is the cleanest way to do it. If Washington were to lose to the host Rangers, that brings the title as well.

Even though the Panthers have already clinched their first playoff berth since 2000, the team wants to finish strong. After all, Florida doesn't want to go into the postseason riding this current wave of anti-momentum.

The Panthers go into Saturday with five straight losses and eight losses in the past nine games. Of those nine games, however, Florida has secured at least a point in all but three.

The division championship brings the third spot and a first-round meeting (with home ice advantage) against New Jersey. If Washington wins it, the Panthers drop to eighth and have to play the top-seeded Rangers with the series starting in New York.

PanthersSClogo“We have to take care of Saturday, bring what we brought [Thursday],'' Brian Campbell said after Florida's 4-2 loss to the Capitals on Thursday. Philadelphia's 2-1 win over Buffalo secured a playoff spot for both the Panthers and Washington.

“We have picked up points by going to overtime almost every night. It doesn't matter how you get in. We got in the back door last year with Chicago and almost had that first round series against the top seed [Vancouver]. We need to bring our playoff game on Saturday.''

Florida has a few banners hanging from the BankAtlantic Center rafters, but only two commemorate on-ice accomplishments.

The first came in 1994 when the Panthers became the most successful expansion team in NHL history. MiamiarenafinalsThe second – and last – was raised at Miami Arena for the 1996 Eastern Conference champions.

Two banners are for events hosted in Sunrise (the 2001 draft and 2003 All-Star Game) and another honors team founder and current alternate governor Bill Torrey. That was raised last season.

Cliff Viner, the team's owner, flew to Washington Thursday and hoped to see his team claim the division title against the Capitals. As long as it happens Saturday, Viner will be happy.

“I want that title on Saturday and I want it badly,'' Viner said. “I think we deserve it and I think we're going to get it.''

Said Dmitry Kulikov: “The season isn't over yet. We have one more game to win. We want to win the division. It's a big home game for us and we'll go from there.''

() It will be interesting to see whom coach Kevin Dineen starts against Carolina. Dineen reiterated that Jose Theodore is Florida's starting goalie, yet he wasn't happy with Theodore's past two performances. Florida could have clinched the division with a win Tuesday against Winnipeg yet coughed up a 3-0 lead and lost 5-4 in overtime.

On Thursday, Dineen pulled Theodore after Washington jumped to a 3-0 lead in the second. Theodore took a break on the bench before returning less than two minutes later.

“He's not getting off the hook,'' Dineen said. “He's been my go-to guy and he needs to get it done. He has to make sure his game is in order. He's been around a while and we have a strong relationship. He knows my expectations.''


DinnencanesWhen, Where: 7:30 p.m.; BankAtlantic Center, Sunrise

TV/Radio: No local TV (Center Ice only)/WQAM-560

The series: Carolina leads 49-38-11

The game: Florida took the first four games in the season series before being knocked off 3-1 on March 21. That loss snapped a five-game winning streak and was the start of the Panthers recent slide which has seen them lose eight of nine and five straight (1-3-5). Florida's 11 wins against divisional foes is only higher than Carolina's eight.