The Florida Panthers have gotten hot at the right time of the season and there doesn’t appear to be any sign of slowing down going into the playoffs. As they sit right on the border of a playoff position, they are making the run of their lives towards a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The Panthers are playing the best hockey of their season at the exact right time and are looking toward gaining a very difficult to obtain wild card spot. Let’s break down what has gotten them to where they are now and who is doing the dirty work to get them there.
Since March 1st, the Florida Panthers have gone 9-2-1 earning 18 out of a possible 24 points. Part of this stretch saw the Panthers get a nine-game point streak. Since the beginning of the new year, the Panthers have gone 21-11-2 and in these months the Panthers also saw themselves obtain an eight-game home winning streak.
Florida isn’t just defeating non-playoff contenders who are limping to the finish line. They are also defeating teams that have been playing terrific hockey all season long. They’ve recently defeated teams like the Toronto Maple Leafs, Washington Capitals, Pittsburgh Penguins and Boston Bruins.
All of these teams have been leading their respective divisions throughout the season and a multitude of other teams have found it to be very difficult to get two points from these clubs. In addition to winning games they aren’t supposed to, the Panthers have been winning games that are crucial to their division standings.
They have also defeated teams competing for a playoff spot like the New Jersey Devils, Philadelphia Flyers, St. Louis Blues and New York Islanders who, at the time, were competing for a playoff spot.
Beyond beating good teams and playoff hungry teams, they are winning games they should be. More often than not, when a team is losing to teams that have no business winning, it can be crippling to a season. There is no easy game in the NHL but there come times when you have to buckle down and get the two points.
The Panthers have gone 10-4-0 since Jan. 1 against teams that are not near a playoff position. That record could look a little bit better but as long as they keep getting wins from all teams all around, their record should continue to improve.
So, who is doing the work on this team to get them to the playoffs? Who has stepped up to the point where the Panthers are on the verge of just their fourth playoff appearance since going to the Stanley Cup Final in 1996? It has been a team effort.
Aleksander Barkov could be a possible talking point for the Hart as he leads his team in points with 73 through 71 games played. Barkov also leads the team in assists meaning not only is he putting the puck in the net, but he is also creating scoring chances for his teammates.
Evgenii Dadonov has come alive this season for the Panthers and shows no signs of slowing down as the regular season nears its end. 23 goals and 33 assists in just 64 games played puts him near the top of the list for breakout players this season. Dadanov also leads the team with six game winning goals which shows that he can come in clutch moments and steal a game. Something the Panthers could be looking for if they find themselves in the playoffs.
Some players myself and many others would like to see more from are Aaron Ekblad and the goaltending duo of Roberto Luongo and James Reimer. Aaron Ekblad, who was the first overall pick in 2014, has gotten only 32 points in 72 games played and only has 17 assists. His plus minus is a very small plus two and that needs to improve considering his skill.
For Roberto Luongo and James Reimer, respectively their goals against average is 2.55 and 3.03. With the goal scoring power currently on display from the Panthers, if the goaltending can improve even slightly that should see Florida winning close games. Another important aspect of the playoffs.
The Panthers are a playoff team no doubt but not all of the playoff teams make the playoffs. That’s the beauty of the NHL. It is unflinchingly rigid and has no sympathy for those clubs that missed an opportunity here and there.
If the Panthers can continue to play the way they have been, I think there isn’t a doubt that they will see themselves in the playoffs and if they remain hot going into the postseason, who knows how long (or how many rounds) they can ride this confidence into April, May and maybe even June. The NHL playoffs are so unpredictable so who really knows.
Either way, this is an exciting team to watch right now.