Going into Saturday’s game against the slumping Montreal Canadiens, the Florida Panthers are in a position to start putting a cap on their most successful regular season in history.
Of course, clinching a playoff spot is the most important piece of business to finish and that could happen as early as this weekend.
The Panthers will clinch a playoff berth if they defeat the Canadiens in any fashion AND the Red Wings lose to the Maple Leafs in any fashion OR if they get one point against the Canadiens AND the Red Wings lose to the Maple Leafs in regulation.
Sounds a little complicated but, considering the Panthers final five games are all against non-playoff teams, locking down a playoff spot is all but a given.
Florida Panthers Seeking Record Setting 44th Win
Those final five games give the Cats the chance to secure their 44th win of the season, eclipsing a record 43 set in the 1999/00 season. That was the season before the Panthers started a record 10 straight season absence from the playoffs that would only end in 2011/12. While the Panthers are well aware of the chance to set a franchise win record, head coach Gerard Gallant told NHL.com correspondent Sean Farrell it’s not the only focus.
“[Thursday] night, to get those extra two points and to be in first place in your division, that’s what you’re shooting for,” Panthers coach Gerard Gallant said Friday. “The goal was to make the playoffs and now the goal is to finish as high as you can. It’s good to be in first place for sure.”
Whether or not the record is broken this weekend or next week, seizing first place in the division is the most important goal and, with Vincent Trocheck out of the lineup for the remainder of the regular season, Gallant is relying on other players to step into the breach.
Huberdeau on Fire
The records set by Jaromir Jagr very time the hockey legend steps on the ice might be getting the most attention but Jonathan Huberdeau has been the player leading the way over the past five games with five goals and six points in that span. Huberdeau has already surpassed his career best 14 goals with 18 and has five games remaining to add to his best season point total of 54. Five games against some of the worst defensive teams in the league should present him with a great opportunity to surpass 20 goals and he has a shot at hitting 60 points for the first time in his career.
The Rat Attack is Back
The Panthers received two minor penalties for delay of game after fans pelted the ice with plastic rats in the game against the New Jersey Devils this week so I don’t imagine they’ll be handing those out the rest of the way with critical playoff seeding on the line. But that raucous fan support is showing up in the Panthers’ attendance figures. ESPN tracks average attendance around the NHL and shows the Cats with an average of 15,253 this season, up from a league worst 11,265 a year ago. The Panthers have already launched a playoff ticket sale drive obviously confident in their chances of clinching in the days or week ahead. I’m sure one Gary Bettman will be smiling to see the passion for NHL hockey returning to south Florida.