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IT'S ALMOST DONE: Panthers Trying to Finish Strong Despite Obstacles

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

TORONTO -- By the time the Panthers get back to South Florida early Wednesday morning, they will have one month left in their season.

A total of 14 games will remain in Florida's abbreviated 48-game schedule, one that started on Jan. 19.

Yes, this disastrous season is almost over.

Barring a miracle, the Panthers season will end on April 27 in Tampa. As has been the case every spring since 2001 -- save for last year -- the Panthers will watch the playoffs and not participate in them.

"We're trying to keep our competitive level extremely high,'' said second-year coach Kevin Dineen, who led the Panthers to the playoffs for the first time since 2000 last season.

"I think I said from Day 1 we wanted a healthy, quality environment. It's no fun right now. We're not having fun. But we're still making strides trying to make this a place in which we get better no matter the situation.''

Even though the playoffs aren't forthcoming for a team that has won two straight games just twice this season, that doesn't mean the Panthers are giving up.

Defenseman Brian Campbell came to Florida from the Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks and isn't used to losing. At least not like this.

"This is not a situation you like being in,'' said Campbell, who will miss the postseason for the first time since 2004. "We want to get some positives going for the rest of the season. Hopefully everyone knows this is not acceptable -- especially with so many young players in our lineup.

"This isn't acceptable no matter how many injuries we have. We have played better lately. We need to build on that.''

The Panthers are currently last in the league, a spot that -- if they finish there -- could help them pick up a top draft pick come June.

An influx of talent would help the Panthers in the future, no doubt. That doesn't help the present, however. The losses, the ones that have been piling up like cords of wood, are wearing on the players and staff.

The furthest thing on Dineen's mind is getting a top-end player in the upcoming draft. No, all he wants to do is beat the Maple Leafs on Tuesday. And then the Sabres on Thursday.

"I'm in charge of 18 guys and we have an incredible sense of pride,'' Dineen said. "I truly believe in the logo and the team and what we're trying to accomplish as a group. [A high draft pick] isn't even in my thinking."


The Panthers injured list continues to grow as Jack Skille was sent back to South Florida to meet with doctors for an undisclosed injury.

Florida has lost players for 208 games to injuries -- including pre-lockout injuries to Sean Bergenhiem, Marcel Goc and Erik Gudbranson.

"This is very unique,'' Dineen said. "It's tough on everyone to have pieces of the puzzle missing. That's just been the nature of it.''

Dineen said that George Parros (upper body) could be back in the lineup by the weekend. Parros has been out since March 16.

-- When Skille left Saturday's game in New Jersey, the Panthers quickly got on the phone and called up Greg Rallo. In 62 games with AHL San Antonio, the 31-year-old Rallo has 22 goals with 16 assists.

"I was on my way home and I was told to turn around and to get my gear,'' Rallo said after playing in his second NHL game with the Panthers on Sunday. "This year, every one who has come up has deserves it. I waited patiently. Hopefully I make the most of it.''

When, Where: 7 p.m.; Air Canada Center, Toronto
TV/Radio: FSNF; WQAM-560
The series: Toronto leads 30-24-7
The game: Florida took all four games against the Leafs last season, but lost at home 3-0 to Toronto on Feb. 18. The Panthers gone 13-4-3 in the past 20 games against the Leafs. Florida has lost two straight as it wraps up this season-long five game road trip.


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On a good note; I believe everyone will come in to next season with fire in their eyes. A repeat of this season is hard to imagine with the talent on this team. Dineen is going to impress us all as I believe he is a very deliberate and driven coach.

Just as a side note, I have said it before; we do not need Seth Jones with the first pick. We need scoring talent. We have had many good defense-men coming through here without much change over the years. We always have been inept at scoring and been in the bottom of the league in scoring over the last 10 years at least.
Last year we where very good defensively but could not score either. Not that much has changed except for injuries. If you can't score you will not win, simple as that.

Maybe they will also have ice in their veins!

I agree Peps, we could use the scoring, but I still think they go with Jones if they get the #1 pick. We'll see how it plays out. Like I've said, as long as it's a Top 3 pick, I'll be fine.

Dineen's job is to win so of course he is not thinking about a high draft pick. But fans know Dineen's job is not easy this year and know there won't be many more wins this year and a high draft pick is what the remainder of the year is about...Peps I agree Panthers need scoring but they do also need defense. For all the talk of Gudbranson & Kulikov they are not that great yet, they may be one day and the same for all the prospects on defense. But don't expect all those "great" defensive prospects to pan out. That said Panthers desperately need more scoring. So I would like that great scoring draft pick...Colorado could end up with the number one pick and take hometown favorite Seth Jones and make Tallon's choice easy.

Good point Puckbubba, I totally agree. It would be great to see us pick another very talented forward out of the top 3 this year.
I believe we can find adequate d-men through free agency or trade if what we have does not live up to expectations.

If Jones has a left handed shot like Garrison we should take him period.Defensive scoring opens up defenses especially on the power play.Garrison and Samuellson are sorely missed.IMO Trade Kulikovif he can bring a high draft pick as he is just above average at m

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