SUNRISE — Florida Panthers coach Andrew Brunette talked about his team having their sights set higher than winning a divisional title — or even the Presidents’ Trophy for most points in a season.
While that is all fine and dandy, you can’t exactly cross home plate without rounding first base.
Man, are the Panthers flying around those bases right now.
On Tuesday night, the Panthers not only tied a franchise record by winning their 12th consecutive game but they also snared their third divisional title and first in six years.
”It means a lot, we put a lot of work into this season,’’ said MacKenzie Weegar, who scored in Florida’s 5-2 win over the Detroit Red Wings.
“Locking up the division is a big accomplishment for us. But there’s obviously a bigger picture out there. We’ll enjoy locking up the division, getting home ice in the playoffs but other than that, we’re trying to build our game and have fun while we’re doing it.”
For the first time, the Panthers will be the top seed in the postseason — at least through the first three rounds.
If the Panthers keep this up, however, they could secure home ice throughout the entirety of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Florida currently has a two-point lead on Colorado atop the NHL standings.
The Avs have five games remaining and visit Edmonton tomorrow; the Panthers have five games left in this regular season as well.
On Saturday night, the Toronto Maple Leafs come to town.
Toronto technically could have caught the Panthers for both the division and the top spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs — but that was only if it kept winning.
Thursday night in Tampa, Florida got a solid from the longtime rival Lightning as it blew out the Leafs to knock them out of the running for it.
Toronto now appears like it will end up with the second seed in the Atlantic playoffs with the likelihood of having to face the two-time defending champion Lightning in Round 1.
Florida, meanwhile, will face the second wild card team in the opening round.
As it stands right now, the Panthers could open against Boston, Washington, Pittsburgh or — yeah — the Lightning.
The Panthers are expected to play host to Game 1 in Sunrise on Tuesday, May 3.
”I am proud of the group,’’ Brunette said. “It has been a heck of a year and to (clinch) would be a big bonus. With all these little things, we just want to keep going, keep building.
”Hey, we have a game on Saturday.”
PANTHERS ON DECK
TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS AT FLORIDA PANTHERS
- When: Saturday, 7 p.m.
- Where: FLA Live Arena, Sunrise
- TV/Streaming: Bally Sports Florida
- Radio: WQAM 560-AM/SiriusXM
- Last season: Did not play
- All-time regular season series: Toronto leads 45-34-6, 7 ties
- Season series — Tied 1-1: @Toronto 5, Florida 2 (March 27); @Florida 7, Toronto 6; OT (April 5)