The Florida Panthers have passed a huge test by defeating both of their division rivals in back to back games in their pursuit of the Atlantic Division championship.
After polishing off division rival Boston, the Panthers returned to Florida for a game against their cross-state rivals the Tampa Bay Lightning. The result was never in doubt as the Panthers took,a decisive 5-2 win and moved into the top spot in the division.
Leading the way for the Cats was ageless Jaromir Jagr with a power play goal, his 25th of the season, and Roberto Luongo who stopped 33 of 35 shots in the win.
Luongo was chosen as first star while Jagr also got recognized for his one goal and one assist.
Jagr told the Miami Herald the team knows its fate in its own hands.
“Now that we’re in first place, let’s go home and prove we’re a first place team,” said Jaromir Jagr, who made it 2-1 late in the first period.
“It’s up to us. We have a pretty good schedule, but we can’t take anyone lightly.”
Panthers Heading Home
The Panthers’ wins over Boston and Tampa puts them in the driver’s seat with only seven games to play. The Panthers have the easiest remaining schedule in the Eastern Conference with all their remaining games against non-playoff teams.while both Tampa Bay and Boston have tougher schedules. The Panthers play their next three at home against the Toronto Maple Leafs, the New Jersey Devils and the Montreal Canadiens before a three game road trip to Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa and wrap up at home April 9th against Carolina. All those should be considered winnable games.
The Lightning, meanwhile, also have seven games remaining but two of those are against the New York Rangers and New York Islanders and, of course, the Panthers now have a two point lead over the Bolts in the division standings.
It’s the Bruins that are in the toughest spot as they have only six games remaining and three of those are against playoff contenders St. Louis, Chicago and Detroit. I don’t like their chances.
Florida Panthers’ Record Season
Not only can Panthers’ fans look forward to playoff hockey but they will also witness some team records being shattered if the Cats continue to play well down the stretch. The Panthers need only one more win to tie the franchise record of 43 and they need only five points to equal their best ever season. Both seem like reasonable expectations at this point and they have some reinforcements on the way to assist the cause. Both defenseman Erik Gudbranson and fourth line centre Derek McKenzie are expect back as early as this week giving head coach Gerard Gallant improved roster flexibility and, perhaps, the ability to rest some veterans before the post season if the Panthers can clinch the division early on.