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PANTHERS WANT TO FINISH STRONG: Maple Leafs Here for Home Finale ... Cats to Honor Miami Canes Basketball Team ... Markstrom Stands Tall v Lundqvist ... Bouwmeester Headed to Playoffs

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

The Panthers play their final home game of the abbreviated 2013 season Thursday night and, unlike Tuesday, won't be able to postpone any playoff party for the Maple Leafs.

Toronto had been the only team since the 2004-05 lockout to not make the playoffs after Florida made it last season. For the first time since 2004, the Maple Leafs have secured an invitation to the Stanley Cup playoffs.

On Tuesday, the Panthers put off the Rangers' postseason berth with a 3-2 win at BB&T Center. New York, currently sitting in eighth in the Eastern Conference, just needs two of its available four points to advance assuming Winnipeg wins its season finale Thursday against the Canadiens.

After Florida's win on Tuesday, which snapped a six-game losing streak, the Panthers talked about their motivation coming into the game.

The team held a meeting on Monday and talked about which way they wanted to finish this thing out. They could continue down the losing path they were going - or do something about it.

Thanks to a stellar night in goal from Jacob Markstrom, they were able to at least get a late-season victory.

Florida finishes the season in Tampa on Saturday. Part of Florida's six-game skid was a winless four-game road trip in which the Panthers were outscored 20-5.

“We talked about it after we came back from the trip that it wasn’t pretty,'' defenseman Filip Kuba said. "We want some pride in our game and want to play good for our fans here.”

CANES HONORED

The Panthers plan to honor the University of Miami's ACC champion men's basketball team at Thursday's home finale with coach Jim Larrañaga dropping the ceremonial opening puck.

Larrañaga is expected to be joined by UM athletic director Blake James as well as assistant coaches and players.

“Many Panthers fans are also Canes fans,'' team president Michael Yormark said in a statement. "As a member of the South Florida sports family, we believe strongly in supporting our fellow local teams.”

-- With Peter Mueller back in the lineup, the Panthers parted ways -- for now, at least -- with forward Greg Rallo. With the season complete for the AHL Rampage, Rallo was "sent home for the summer," as Dineen put it.

Rallo, 31, played in 10 games for the Panthers this season and scored one goal.

-- Markstrom was expected to get a few stitches after Tuesday's game after getting hit with a puck. Markstrom needed a timeout to get patched up during the third period and spoke to the media following the game with a piece of tape loosely covering the damage.

"Instead of my health, I take care of this because I'm thinking of you guys,'' Markstrom joked about meeting the media before getting stitched up.

-- After Markstrom made 44 saves in Florida's win at Madison Square Garden on March 21, he spoke of how revered Rangers' goalie Henrik Lundqvist is in his native Sweden.

"He's most definitely a role model,'' Markstrom said, "a hero to a lot of people at home.''

On Tuesday, Markstrom out-dueled Lundqvist for the second time in his career and is now 2-0 against him. Markstrom said he was just happy the Panthers got a victory.

"Just beating anyone is good,'' said Markstrom, who stopped 36 of 38 shots in the win. "I don't have that many wins. Hopefully we can build on this and get a few more wins before the season is over.''

-- Former Florida defenseman Jay Bouwmeester will finally see the postseason as his NHL record for not making the postseason will likely end at 764 regular season games.

Bouwmeester played in 471 games with the Panthers over six playoff-less seasons but will make the postseason this spring with St. Louis. The Panthers traded Bouwmeester to Calgary in 2009 after he declined offers to resign with the team.

The record will revert back to former Panthers' assistant coach Guy Charron who played in 734 games from 1969-80 and never made the postseason. Former Panthers captain Olli Jokinen held the record for a short time as well.

"Sometimes it just doesn't work out,'' Bouwmeester told reporters after Tuesday's win over Colorado. "You never think it's not going to happen."

THURSDAY: MAPLE LEAFS AT PANTHERS

When, Where: 7:30 p.m.; BB&T Center, Sunrise

TV/Radio: FSN; WQAM-560

The series: Toronto leads 31-24-7

The game: Florida plays its final home game of the 2013 season and searches for its first win against the Leafs. Florida has been outscored 6-2 in its two losses to Toronto. The Panthers play their final game of the season Saturday in Tampa.

Comments

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I'd like to point out that Howden and Bjugstad have ZERO points so far. That's a complete joke, Tallon has done a horrible job. I'd rather have Horton here than watch the Bum Howden skate around people with the inability to finish. Bjugstad is a big body but I see nothing special there. It's a shame really. 2010 draft was a waste, Gudbranson isnt that good either. Panthers continue to show how inept they really are.

That's just stupid..... Go troll somewhere else.

Agreed. They have about 20 games between them in their careers.

I think this shortened season was perfect for our young core (Bjugstad/Howden/Hubes/Markstrom/Shore), it gave them a taste of the NHL without running head on into that rookie wall (sans Hubes, probably because he played so many games this year in the Q and U20 Tourney). Young guys get a taste of their future, and we get a Top 2 pick, as painful as the 48 games were, I'll take it!

Agreed that is stupid. Howden should take Upshall's spot. He is faster and can do the same job for less money and probably would play more games in a season. Bjugstad is just learning the pro game he is only playing because Panthers are so far out of the picture and whether he plays next year on Panthers or Rampage will be determined in training camp. Gudbranson is still young and came into the season injured. Tallon has done a decent job he can't control players getting injured in Europe or on a lake or the several that came into the season totally out of shape. He can however replace those he feels has not lived up to their contracts. The only mistakes Tallon made were Upshall and Kuba both have been disappointments. The one thing that is clear is Panthers need scoring and I hope he remembers that on draft day.

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