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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.