The Florida Panthers continue their run as one of the best teams in the NHL. Finishing off the month of April, they currently sit tied for second in the Central Division and trail the Carolina Hurricanes by two points for the division lead. With only a few games left in their season, they’ve shown they can hang with top teams and play at an elite level.
The Cats Punch Their Ticket
After defeating the Nashville Predators by a score of 7-4 on Tuesday, April 27, the Cats clinched their first playoff berth since the 2015-16 season with a total of 69 points. This was largely due to their successful start in the season and their ability to nab points in tough situations. The opponent they will face in the first round is currently unknown, but it will more than likely be the defending Stanley Cup Champion, Tampa Bay Lightning.
Our Knight in Shinning Armor Makes His Debut
Goaltending prospect Spencer Knight finally got his chance between the pipes, and he played as if he was in the league for a decade. In his three appearances this season, he posted a record of 3-0-0 while also posting a .943 save percentage (SV%) and a 1.67 goals-against average (GAA). He became the second-youngest goaltender in NHL history to win each of his first three appearances at 20 years old with his record.
Drafted back in the first round of the 2019 NHL Draft, Knight was being compared by analysts to other greats such as Carey Price. He is still young and has a lot of room to grow. In addition, most goaltenders last in the league until their mid-to-late 30’s and sometimes their early 40’s. If he starts hitting his prime at 20 and remains healthy, they will have what might be an all-star caliber goaltender for nearly two decades.
The Injury Bug Comes Back for More
As the storyline of this season has been, injuries have piled up again over in Sunrise, and it’s now focusing on their goaltenders. The month of April took its toll on the Panthers.
On April 26, Driedger was pulled in the middle of a game against Nashville. He is currently listed as day-to-day. He has played exceptionally well for Florida, posting a 13-6-3 record with a .923 SV% and a 2.17 GAA.
One of the team’s top point scorers in Verhaeghe is currently listed as week-to-week. He has 35 points (17 goals, 18 assists) through 42 games and is third on the team in rating with a plus-23.
The veteran leader for the Panthers was listed as day-to-day after missing all of the last road trip. He currently leads the team in power-play goals with eight.
The Duke of Goal Scoring
One of Bill Zito’s acquisitions this past offseason, forward Anthony Duclair, has been on an absolute tear as of late. Since returning to the lineup after his injury in March, he’s tallied at least one point in all except one game.
Additionally, he had 12 points (four goals, eight assists) through 10 games in April. His elite play is just what the doctor ordered in time for a big postseason run. Additionally, his exposure to the playoffs could bring on a big push into becoming an all-star forward for more than just one season. Hopefully, he’ll be re-signed to a new deal when the current season comes to a close.
Bennett Makes His Presence Known
Since he arrived in Florida from the trade deadline, Bennett has played at an elite level, tallying 13 points (five goals, eight assists) through only nine-game played for the Panthers. That is more points than any other trade deadline acquisition in the league, including Boston Bruins forward Taylor Hall. In comparison, Bennett only had 12 points (four goals, eight assists) in 38 games during his time this season with the Calgary Flames. Furthermore, he tallied his first career overtime winner on April 30 against the Chicago Blackhawks. After being with a fading Calgary team, he is flourishing in Sunrise.
Related: Panthers Acquire Bennett From Flames
Bennett was brought in to be a physical presence during the playoffs as he’s a fantastic postseason performer with 19 points (11 goals, eight assists) through 30 games. In addition, as evidence from his recent success, he’s already settled into his line with Jonathan Huberdeau. If he’s already performing well now, imagine how he’ll become playoff time in just a couple of weeks.
Tippett Gets His Confidence Back
The end of April treated young forward Owen Tippett very well. He appeared to shoot more on net and nabbed some points to make up for his confident play. In the game where Florida clinched, he had a goal and an assist. As of right now, Tippet has 17 points (seven goals, 10 assists) on the season.
The true test for “Ginger Snipes” is fast approaching. He will finally get his feet wet in playoff experience. The question remains: does he play at an elite level? Or does he regress terribly under pressure?
Barkov and Huberdeau Continue Their Elite Play
The Panthers’ captain, forward Aleksander Barkov, has continued to play at an elite level worthy of MVP conversation throughout the season. His performance through April was nothing short of sensational.
Through April, he collected a total of 15 points (11 goals, four assists) through 15 games. This puts him in the team lead for goals overall and tied for sixth in the NHL with 26. In addition, he’s second on the team and 14th in the league in the points department with 56 (30 assists).
Barkov has continued to show year in and year out that he’s one of the best two-way centers in the game today. He’s always in the conversation for the Selke and the Lady Byng at the end of every season and this one is no different. Now that he is leading his team to a potential postseason run, he should be in the conversation for the Hart Trophy.
Furthermore, his former line partner and long-time teammate Jonathan Huberdeau has also performed at an exceptional level. Through last month, he had 17 points (13 goals, four assists) through 16 games. With that, he leads the team in points with 59 (19 goals, 40 assists). In addition, he is only four points away from his 500th career point. With the way he’s been performing as of late, it’s not too farfetched for him to hit that mark before the season’s end.
Since being drafted back in 2011, Huberdeau has been a star in the Panthers lineup every night he’s suited up. He’s taken over as franchise leader in points with 496 (167 goals, 329 assists). Furthermore, he’s been given the “A” on his jersey due to his amazing leadership skills. Much like his teammate in Barkov, he is one of the faces of this franchise.
Are They Ready for the Playoffs?
Florida has already shown the league they fear no one and are up for a challenge. The playoffs are approaching and with them still feeling hungry after last year’s defeat to the Islanders, they want more. As previously stated, it is not officially confirmed who they are playing in the playoffs. However, they are eager to renew the rivalry with some of their original Southeast Division foes from years past. With the goal scoring, grit, and leadership they bring to the table, anything is possible for this hungry Panthers squad.
My name is Joey. I’ve been writing about the NHL for about 3 years with my experience spread out between TSJ 101 Sports and Panther Parkway. I look forward to you reading my articles!