The Florida Panthers head into the 2nd half of the season a single point out of the playoffs. It’s been awhile since this team has been in this position (9 years, in fact), so foreseeing what the future holds for this team is a little difficult. We’ve seen Florida play at extremely high levels this season. We’ve also witnessed a team that fails to show up. Lately, it’s been more of the former, which is promising. We’ll see which team shows up for the playoff push.
The Panthers have 36 games left. Let’s assume that 92 points is the magic number, as it has been in years previous. Florida currently has 50. So, exercising my 4th grade mathematics, the Cats will likely need 42 points in 36. 21 wins out of 36. 6 games over .500 the rest of the year. Now obviously, OT and SO losses will contribute, but let’s not get too complicated.
Let’s look at the schedule! The Panthers have 7 games left against the most likely competition for that 8th seed (2 against Carolina, 2 in Buffalo, 3 against Pittsburgh). Florida also has 10 games left against teams that are currently at or near the bottom of the table (Atlanta, Tampa Bay, the Islanders, Toronto, St. Louis, and Dallas). There are a couple of key weeks left in the season. At the end of February, the Cats take a 4 game road trip in which they will visit 4 playoff teams (Boston, the Rangers, New Jersey, and Washington). Then, in mid-March, a 5 game home stand against 4 lesser teams (Tampa, Washington, Toronto, Columbus, Carolina), where the Panthers will almost certainly need to win 4 of 5.
So is it possible? Of course it is. The Cats have been playing well of late, earning at least a point in 8 of their last 9 games (5-1-3). What could be key is earning that extra bonus point in the shootout. Florida is just 2-6 this year in shootouts. That’s 6 dropped points. If they’d gone 6-2 instead, they’d be the 7th seed today. Earning 2 points every chance they have is vital.
It promises to be an exciting final 36 games of the season for the Panthers, and that hasn’t been said in quite some time. It would be nice to see meaningful hockey games being played in South Florida in late April and into May.