TIME TO GET BACK IN THE RACE: Slumping Panthers say things aren't lost just yet ... Florida has lost six of seven but can turn things around ... Pirri playing well in expanded role ... Hayes set to return v Rangers
NEW YORK -- After losing six of their past seven games, the Panthers have lost precious ground in the playoff race.
Coach Gerard Gallant has often put a positive spin on his team regardless of its struggles, but this latest rough patch has him looking at things pretty realistically.
The Panthers, according to Gallant, aren't really in the playoff race any more.
"Our goal all year has been to be in the race and I don't know right now if we're in it,'' said Gallant, whose team is eight points out of the final postseason spot in the Eastern Conference.
"It's time, for me, for us to get back in the race. There are eight teams in front of us and they're all good teams. We have to make sure we get back into the picture. We've slid out of it a little bit. We have to worry about our games.''
Defenseman Willie Mitchell said his team can definitely get back in the hunt if they stop worrying about the "big hill" in front of them and worry about each game as it comes.
Although the Bruins have won eight of their past 10, Florida hopes to pick up ground on the likes of the Rangers -- whom the Panthers play on Monday -- or the Capitals.
Washington, which leads Florida by eight points, lost for the sixth time in seven games on Sunday and has played three more games than the Panthers.
"We are still right there,'' Mitchell said. "We have a lot of work to do but every team has a part of their season where things fall off a little bit. That will happen to the teams in front of us. It has to be about us and what we're doing. We need to play the way we know we can.''
The next two games give the Panthers an opportunity to gain ground on teams in front of them.
It won't come easy.
Monday, the Panthers visit Madison Square Garden where they have lost five of the past six games to the Rangers.
New York has won 13 of its past 18 against the Panthers over the past six seasons and eight of the past 10.
The Panthers haven't won at the Garden in two years. The Rangers hold an eight-point lead on Florida.
"We were in the hunt all year and now we're sliding a little bit,'' Gallant said. "In my opinion, we're out of the hunt but we're real close to getting back. They are all elite teams when you look at the eight. But we need to play with confidence and start getting some points.''
Following Monday's game, the Panthers will play their final regular season game at Nassau Coliseum as the Islanders head to Brooklyn next season.
Florida, which is 13 points back of the Islanders, has found success in Uniondale and has won three of the past five there.
"We need to get on a run and we probably need to do it pretty soon,'' Brian Campbell said.
"It's going to be a challenge, but we need to get ourselves a streak. What sucks is we're not in control of things anymore. We're scoreboard watching. But we have to take care of us before anything else changes.''
After suffering a concussion on Oct. 30, Brandon Pirri missed 10 games.
It took some time for Pirri to get going again as he went 10 games with just one assist as he found himself out of the lineup more and more.
Gallant has put Pirri in the past four games and he's been strong, scoring three goals in that time.
"I missed a lot of time and it took me some time to get back,'' Pirri said Sunday, a day after scoring Florida's lone goal in a 3-1 loss to the host Devils.
"Right now, the opportunity is there for me, I'm getting a lot more minutes.''
-- Jimmy Hayes was a healthy scratch Saturday but is expected to be back in the lineup Monday as he worked on Florida's second line during Sunday's workout in Newark.
Monday: Panthers at Rangers
When/Where: 7 p.m.; Madison Square Garden, New York
TV/Radio: FSFL; WQAM 560
Series: New York leads 46-32-6
Noteworthy: The Panthers are 0-1 against New York this season and return here for the series finale on March 15,