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PETER HORACHEK: Missing the Playoffs an 'Empty Feeling'

TWITTER: @GeorgeRichards

Although the final weeks of the Panthers' season has dragged on, coach Peter Horachek doesn't want his team to be happy the end is near.

He wants them to be mad that after Saturday's game against Columbus, it's over.

No more practice, no more morning skates, no more games.

As is usually the case around these parts, no Stanley Cup playoffs.

"It's an empty feeling when you finish the game, you know you're not going to the playoffs,'' Horachek said after he gave most of the team Friday off after Thursday's 4-2 win over the Maple Leafs.

"I want the players to know what a bad feeling this is. I want us to go out and win, put the effort in to win, and know this is a really [crummy] feeling. I don't want this feeling going forward. We should be in the playoffs. The only thing we should be thinking about is the playoffs.''

Horachek talks like he has a plan for the future although as the team's interim coach, he doesn't know whether he'll be back to be part of the solution or not.

General manager Dale Tallon has said there has been no discussion of whether Horachek returns next year, saying that a decision on that will come next month.

A number of experienced NHL coaches -- including Horachek's friend and longtime Nashville bench boss Barry Trotz -- could be available in the coming weeks and the Panthers are going to look at a number of different scenarios.

Horachek sure talks as if he'll be back with the Panthers and feels he deserves the opportunity.

Florida showed signs of improvement under his watch as the Panthers were 3-9-4 when Kevin Dineen and his staff was fired in November.

The Panthers were 21-24-7 after winning in Detroit on Jan. 26, but injuries and inconsistent play plagued them over the final months.

Florida goes into Saturday's season finale with wins in two of its past three games, but overall, has lost nine of 12.

"We should still be playing,'' Horachek said, "and in the future, we need to keep pushing to get to that point. We've just scratching the surface right now. There are so many things we can continue to get better. .-.-. After [Saturday], I'm going to go, 'ugh. This sucks.' It's an empty feeling. And I don't want us to feel it again.''

One player who is most definitely part of Florida's future plans is goalie Roberto Luongo. The Panthers re-acquired Luongo on March 4, Luongo coming to a team he knew was out of playoff contention.

Finishing out the string of games has been tough, but Luongo has been looking toward the future. He likes what he has seen in young players such as Nick Bjugstad, Brandon Pirri and Vincent Trocheck.

Florida is also excited to see rookie Aleksander Barkov blossom in his sophomore season after he missed the past two months with a knee injury that is close to being healed up in time for the offseason.

"It's a bit sad that this is it so we want to finish on the right note,'' Luongo said. "I'm looking forward to next year. It's bittersweet. It was a pretty good year for me. I want to re-establish myself as one of the top starters in the league and I think I've done that. It's disappointing not to make the playoffs, but I think it's about looking forward to building up next year.''

Saturday: Blue Jackets at Panthers

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

TV/Radio: No local TV (NHL Game Center blackout lifted); WQAM 560

The series: Columbus leads 10-4-0

Scouting report: Columbus is in the playoffs for the second time in franchise history but is without former Panthers' forward Nathan Horton who had abdominal surgery Friday. Columbus won the first two meetings this season, both in Ohio.

 

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