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Florida Panthers Pregame: Eastern Conference top spot, Atlantic title in sight

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The Florida Panthers have begun dressing up FLA Live Arena in Sunrise with playoff banners draped on the front of the building. This one depicts defenseman MacKenzie Weegar; Jonathan Huberdeau is on the other side of the building. — Photo @GeorgeRichards

SUNRISE — The Florida Panthers have set a lot of franchise records during the 2021-22 season, but they could reach yet another first on Thursday night.

With a win over the Detroit Red Wings and a Toronto Maple Leafs loss in Tampa, the Panthers could clinch the best record in the Eastern Conference for the first time in team history.

Florida would also claim their third division title in franchise history if the pieces fall into place on Thursday night.

The Panthers do not even have to win Thursday; they just need one more point than Toronto gets in Tampa to lay claim to the top seed and divisional title.

“I think it’s hard to think about that when you’re in the mix here,” Panthers coach Andrew Brunette said.

“We are just kind of day-to-day here and we have greater aspirations. It is a nice accomplishment. We should be proud of that, but we have more work to do.”

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Some variation of those words has been repeated ad nauseam of late by the Panthers.

Ever since the Panthers clinched a playoff spot on April 3, their main goal has been to prepare for playoff hockey.

So far, they have done a good job of that as they are in the midst of an 11-game winning streak which started on March 29.

“It’s important to be feeling good going into the playoffs,” Sam Bennett said.

“You want your game to be at its best right before the playoffs and we’re doing a good job of that. We’re playing pretty solid hockey and it’s important right now.”

While that winning streak had two four-goal comebacks near the start against the Maple Leafs and the New Jersey Devils that left some concerned, Florida calmed things down defensively since then.

In their last five games, the Panthers allowed no more than two goals in each game.

“It’s really important,” Bennett said.

“In the playoffs, you are not going to win too many games scoring seven or eight goals. There are going to be tighter, low-scoring games, so we have to get used to playing more of that style of hockey.”

A win against Detroit on Thursday means even more franchise history for Florida.

Florida would win its 12th straight game, tying a stretch from the 2015-16 season for the longest winning streak in franchise history.

It would also put them in a tie for third all-time for home wins in a season with 33.

While the Panthers will not be able to tie the record of 36 with just three games left on their schedule, they are still very much enjoying playing in front of their home fans.

“It is a pleasure to play here at home,” Eetu Luostarinen said. “The fans have been electric and I want to hear that in the playoffs too.”

Morning Skate Updates

  • Carter Verhaeghe will not play on Thursday against the Red Wings. Brunette says that he has been dealing with a few minor issues and that today will be a maintenance day for him.
  • Sergei Bobrovsky will be Florida’s starting goaltender against Detroit.
  • Joe Thornton and Noel Acciari both draw into the lineup while Maxim Mamin will be a healthy scratch.
  • Lucas Carlsson will take Robert Hagg‘s spot on the bottom defensive pairing alongside Radko Gudas.

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