It’s was a great weekend for the Florida Panthers. On Saturday, the Panthers shrugged off a slow start and scored four straight goals to defeat the Montreal Canadiens 4-3. The Cats were led by a dominating performance from Aleksander Barkov who scored twice and added two assists, all in the final 30 minutes, to keep the Panthers two points ahead of division rival Tampa Bay and by setting the stage for the Panthers to clinch a spot in the playoffs. Barkov’s 26 goals and 55 points are career highs despite the big centre missing 14 games due to injury. Barkov is catching fire (nine points in his last five games) at just the right time with second line centre Vincent Trocheck out for the remainder of the regular season.
Barkov’s scoring surge now gives the Panthers a team-record five 50-point scorers with Reilly Smith knocking on the door with 47.
Blackhawks With The Assist
The win over Montreal was huge but even better news came Sunday afternoon when Patrick Kane scored a hat trick to lead the Chicago to a 6-4 victory over the Boston Bruins. The Bruins’ loss clinched a playoff spot for the Panthers as they headed out on a Canadian road trip that starts with a Monday game against the Maple Leafs in Toronto. The Bruins’ loss means the Panthers can finish no lower than the last wild card spot, but they have a division championship on their minds. Before jetting off to Toronto, Panthers veteran Jaromir Jagr told ESPN his team has a quiet confidence.
Panthers leading scorer Jaromir Jagr is going to the postseason for the 18th time in his NHL career. It’s the first trip to the playoffs for young Panthers stars like Aaron Ekblad, Jonathan Huberdeau, Aleksander Barkov, Vincent Trocheck and Nick Bjugstad.
“There’s so many doubters about our team, and that’s fine with us,” Jagr said.
Playoffs Clinched But Still Some Work to Do
The stiffest test in the Panthers’ remaining four games is to fend off the Tampa Bay Lightning who trail the Cats by two points and also have four games remaining, but there are a couple of things working in Florida’s favour.
Tampa Bay was rocked Saturday by the news that captain Steven Stamkos will miss several weeks with a blood clot in his shoulder and the Lightning are also without top defenseman Anton Stralman, who recently suffered a broken leg and is out for the season.
You have to like the Panthers’ chances, given those injuries, but the remaining schedule also works in the Panthers’ favour. The Cats’ three game Canadian road trip includes the Monday game against Toronto but also features a Tuesday rematch against the Canadiens in Montreal and a Thursday night matchup against the Senators in Ottawa. The season finale is at home against another team out of the playoffs, the Carolina Hurricanes, so it’s likely the Panthers can win out the rest of the way.
In the meantime, The Lightning have games against two teams, the New York Islanders and Rangers, who are jockeying for playoff positions and should provide some stiff resistance.
If the Panthers can avoid the slow starts that have plagued them, like against Montreal Saturday, they can control their own destiny and bring home a division title and then, as they say, anything is possible in the playoffs.