Panthers’ To-Do List to Reach the 2023 Playoffs         

Even though the Florida Panthers are not currently in a wild card spot, there is no reason to believe that they cannot get hot with some Cat-scratch fever and make the postseason. They have a few games in hand on the New York Islanders and their remaining schedule is extremely favorable.

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Coach Paul Maurice can lead this team to the NHL’s second season. If they do get there, it will be a matchup against the runaway train Boston Bruins or either the Carolina Hurricanes or New Jersey Devils. But, getting there is really what matters most, and this is what the Panthers can do to qualify for the hardest tournament to win in sports:

Play Sergei Bobrovsky and Only Bob

Typically, teams that drink from the Stanley Cup do so on the shoulder pads of a goaltender who elevates their game beyond the elite level. Sergei Bobrovsky accounts for a high percentage of the Panthers’ cap. He’s a 34-year-old goalie who plays better the more he plays.

“He looks like the guy that we remember in his prime,” Maurice said recently to AP News. “He looks young. He’s getting across the crease fast. His rebound control is right. He’s wired. He’s finding pucks through screens.”

Sergei Bobrovsky Florida Panthers
Sergei Bobrovsky, Florida Panthers (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Then play him. Every game from here on out. Forget about analytics and matchups. Forget about rest and back-to-backs. Put Bob into that crease and leave him there. He’s an ace. Push all-in. Even if the river card is not the result wanted, at least the hand was played correctly.

Stop Taking So Many Penalties

The Panthers lead the league in penalty minutes per game. Couple that with one of the league’s worst penalty-killing units and the end game is death by too many pucks in your own net. Aggressive play is welcomed and essential, but time after time, the Panthers have gone too far, which has cost them dearly.

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”We are not trying to take penalties out there but sometimes desperation and emotion can come into it — and there are some tough calls here and there,” Marc Staal said to Florida Hockey Now. “But I think we got to minimize that to give ourselves a better chance.”

Marc Staal Florida Panthers
Marc Staal, Florida Panthers (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

In addition, they have been caught deep in the offensive zone often and their inability to play defense as a five-man unit has led to an insane number of odd-man rushes. This has led to sloppy, desperate backchecking and more infractions. This can and must stop for the Panthers to claim a playoff spot.

Load Up the Top-Six

Line combinations should not matter as much as playing the best six forwards on the top two lines and giving them plenty of ice time. Aleksander Barkov, Anthony Duclair, Eetu Luostarinen, Carter Verhaeghe, Sam Bennett, and Matthew Tkachuk. Sprinkle in Sam Reinhart as well.

Paul Maurice Florida Panthers
Paul Maurice, Head Coach of the Florida Panthers (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Those are the horses on this team. They get paid to win games. Ride them – hard. Get those big boys into a rhythm. Every single one of them should play 18-plus minutes a game. Also, put the ones going the best onto the top power play unit and don’t give the second unit a shift with the man advantage.

Be Selective in D-Man Pinching

The Panthers are not scoring goals at the same pace as last season, but this team can definitely put up enough to win any game. The issue is more on the defensive end. Aaron Ekblad needs to set an example for his fellow defensemen and exhibit a more controlled 60 minutes. There is no need to take unnecessary chances and be caught on a pinch down low. Control the neutral zone and cause turnovers that lead to odd-man rushes. Stay patient and pinch without riverboat gambling. This team has plenty of offensive-minded defensemen, but they need to exemplify a better approach to game management to ensure that they don’t chase games.

Continue to Play Tough vs the East

The Panthers have no more games remaining on their schedule versus Western Conference opponents. That’s a good thing for the Panthers, who currently win 62 percent of their games when they play teams in their own conference and are under .500 when they don’t. Additionally, close to two-thirds of their remaining games are against non-playoff teams.

“Hopefully, we can get in and then you never know what can happen,” Matthew Tkachuk said to “I think we have put ourselves in a position where we just need to take care of our own business. For the most part, we are trending right now and that’s all you can ask for.”

Also, maybe management can lobby for more home games against the Montreal Canadiens. It’s likely that the next time the Panthers play the Habs at home, Las Vegas oddsmakers will set the spread at minus-13.5. Short of that happening, if they check off each one of the aforementioned tasks on their to-do list – and if they stay healthy – the Cats will have a solid chance at competing for the Stanley Cup.

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