BUCKING A TURKEY TREND?: Panthers try and beat the odds, earn playoff spot after being out on Thanksgiving ... Montoya returns to practice ... Panthers shuffle up D pairings
In the NHL and NBA, if your team holds a playoff spot on Thanksgiving, that usually means they will be there come April.
According to STATS, since the 2004-05 lockout, NHL teams in playoff position on Thanksgiving make the postseason 80 percent of the time.
That's not good news for the Panthers.
Going into Friday's home game against the Islanders, Florida sits five points out of playoff position -- much closer to last place in the Eastern Conference than holding one of the eight golden tickets.
The Panthers losing nine of their past 12 games and three straight certainly hasn't helped.
"It's too early for that, but I would rather be in the playoffs now than out,'' coach Gerard Gallant said. "We haven't won enough games over the past dozen; it's not good enough. If we want to be a playoff team, we have to play better.''
With 61 games left, the Panthers obviously have plenty of time to get back into the mix.
Last year, six of the eight Eastern Conference teams in playoff position made it with Boston and Toronto dropping out.
Ottawa ended its season by winning 23 of its final 31 and stormed into the postseason; the Rangers also made it (by winning the Metropolitan Division) with a strong second half.
The Panthers feel they have the team to make a similar move up the standings.
"We have to play for two points every game,'' said Reilly Smith, who was with Boston last year. "Our past three games were pretty frustrating in we didn't get many points. Every game is important. If you're down and out now, it's a long way to get back. When you miss the playoffs by a few points, you look back at points lost at this time of year and regret it."
On Nov. 10, the Panthers kicked off what was a stretch of having seven of eight games on home ice with only one game away from Sunrise -- just a short flight away in Tampa.
Of the seven games played so far, the Panthers won just three (two of which came against the Lightning).
A win Friday against the Islanders would help salvage the home stretch with a daunting five-game road trip kicking off Sunday in Detroit.
"We need to get a stretch going,'' Shawn Thornton said. "Parity is huge in this league. There are no easy games, you have to play for every point. We have to be more consistent, show up and be pros every game. We have the talent to win games, we just need to show up every night and compete.''
-- Gallant continues to mix things up in an effort to fix Florida's losing ways.
On Wednesday, the Panthers brought up a pair of rookies (Connor Brickley and Logan Shaw) and shuffled their four forward lines.
Thursday, the Panthers changed up their long-standing defensive pairs.
"We're just moving forward I guess,'' said Brian Campbell, who went from playing with Aaron Ekblad to currently being paired with Erik Gudbranson.
"It's a different look and we'll see how it works out. I'm definitely fine with whatever the coaches say to do. I've played with Gudbranson in the past here and there.''
Said Gallant: "It's just a change. They've been OK, but we're not winning. Hopefully it works.''
-- Backup goalie Al Montoya was back on the ice Thursday after hurting his neck in the first period of Monday's loss to Los Angeles.
-- Winger Jussi Jokinen left Wedneday's practice early because of "tightness" and didn't participate in Thursday's workout. Gallant said Jokinen is expected to play Friday.
-- The Panthers are holding a special Black Friday event at the BB&T Center with fans invited to come to the arena for the morning skate at 10:30.
Friday: Islanders at Panthers
When, where: 7:30 p.m.; BB&T Center, Sunrise
TV/Radio: FSFL; 560 WQAM, 640 WMEN, WMNA 1210.
Series: Florida leads 41-35-8
Scouting report: The Islanders picked up their 11th win of the season Wednesday by beating the visiting Flyers 3-1. Florida won two of the three meetings last year including its final game at Nassau Coliseum on Feb. 3.