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Desperation? Florida Panthers Finding it Hard to Fake

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Evan Rodrigues skates with puck during the third period of a game against the New York Rangers on March 23. Of the eight losses in this 10-game stretch, the loss at Madison Square Garden was one of Florida’s best games. (AP Photo/Peter K. Afriyie)

There are plenty of desperate teams in the NHL right now. The Florida Panthers are not one of them.

Those teams playing for their postseason lives are easy to spot. 

The Panthers, at this time last year, were one of them. 

The momentum Florida built up in the seven games it took to get into the playoffs helped carry the Panthers to the Stanley Cup Final.

‘Desperate hockey’ has not been needed by the Panthers this season. 

It could be now. 

Only it is hard to fake desperation. 

The Panthers have been near the top of the NHL for most of the season. 

Along the way, they ran off some notable stretches of solid play. 

There was the franchise record 11-game road win streak. Despite back-to-back losses in Toronto and Montreal, the Panthers are still tied with Dallas (25) for the most road wins this season.

Then there was the remarkable stretch of 14 games during which they relinquished no more than two goals per game.

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Sam Reinhart’s hot hand and the calendar year 2024 hot streak of Matthew Tkachuk kept the team in the mix for the top spot and earned them the reputation of one of the least hospitable teams to play against.

If the team doesn’t get out of its current funk, this will go for naught.

The Panthers have won two of its past ten games and relinquished four or more goals in six.

During that span, they averaged a whopping 3.70 goals per game, have a 6.7 percent success rate on the power play (last in the NHL), and have an 83.7 percent penalty kill rate.

By comparison, from when the hot streak started on December 23 to when it ended on March 12 the team was an impressive 27-5-2 and averaged only 2.09 goals against per game. 

The power play was a league-leading 35.0 percent, and the penalty kill was 81.2 percent.

Annoying injuries have taken their toll. 

Aaron Ekblad recently missed seven games after being out the first 16 this season.

He left Tuesday’s game with an undisclosed injury.

Carter Verhaeghe could be out for the remainder of the regular season.

Tkachuk missed the Montreal contest due to an illness that is presumably short-term.

Fortunately, they have depth for temporary relief, but defensive lapses and missed opportunities have cost them. Dmitry Kulikov’s giveaway Tuesday on a no-no east-west pass attempt opened the floodgates.  

The importance of the Vladimir Tarasenko acquisition, even if only a rental, cannot be understated. 

The other deadline acquisitions are pure depth but teams can never have enough in reserve personnel during the grueling playoffs.

Coach Paul Maurice has been downplaying the slump and the need to finish first in the Eastern Division, preferring to rest players and be healthy for the playoffs.

After the Montreal loss, he mentioned tongue-in-cheek, “We’ve got a good chunk of adversity right now, and part of it will be the panic that will set in outside the room.”

The clear implication was that the media was more worried than he or the team.

He added about the poor recent play and the effort against Montreal: “You’re growly a little bit, and the team’s a little bit snarly. We didn’t have enough in the tank to even show that snarl tonight, but they’re fine. They’re going to be just fine.”

Maurice will get the team going again. 

If last year is any indication, before the team ran off a 6-0-1 streak to qualify for the playoffs, they lost four straight and gave up 21 goals.

The playoffs may not last long for the Panthers only right now if the momentum doesn’t change from lackluster to desperation.

For the most in-depth coverage of the Florida Panthers:

ON DECK

FLORIDA PANTHERS @ OTTAWA SENATORS

  • When: Thursday, 7 p.m.
  • Where: Canadian Tire Center, Ottawa
  • TV/Streaming: Bally Sports Florida, ESPN+
  • Radio: WPOW 96.5-FM2; WBZT 1230-AM (Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); SiriusXM
  • Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932, NHL App
  • Last Season: Florida won 2-1
  • This Season (Panthers Lead 2-0) — At Ottawa: Panthers 5, Senators 0 (Nov.27); Thursday. At Florida: Panthers 3, Senators 2 OT (Feb. 20); Tuesday.
  • All-time Regular Season Series: Ottawa leads 57-46-5, 3 ties
  • Up Next for the Panthers: Saturday at Boston, 3:30 (ABC)

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Brian Biggane

Kulikov absolutely needs to be benched and you guys need to make that clear. From the horrific giveaway last night that turned the game to some untimely penalties, he’s been absolute garbage for weeks after being only a borderline top-6 D the rest of the year. Goldie and Moller are not about to call him out and the SoFla media doesn’t bother covering this team so you guys are all that’s left. Rip the guy a new one and see if Maurice responds.

ConkmanFL

Pretty sure PM won’t care what anyone in the media says/thinks or any non NHL coaches/GMs assessment of his players. It’s not just him, the whole team is out of sync with all the players that have been out for various illness or injury, and with no urgency to have to play through anything to make it into the playoffs. Just is what it is. that play last night should have been off the boards behind the net, but Mikkola also was not sliding back to the corner to be in position for the pass, he was starting to move… Read more »

TheXrayDave

While I agree with your assessment of Kuli, especially the past two games, I’d dread the day the the coach would listen to the press, or the fans. I have confidence that it’ll be turned around before round 1. People were ripping Maurice a little over a year ago, calling for his firing, and now they want him to listen to the press? Just normal ebb and flow of the season. Hopefully tomorrow they’ll play sound, fundamental hockey and get two points and then another two Saturday, and then everyone will calm down. If they do, the Leaf game here… Read more »

Cats and Oilers

Going into the 4 game in six day road trip, Maurice foreshadowed the issues the Cats would have with injury and fatigue. I think Maurice has come to peace with this being an anomaly and is looking forward to the rest and and re-tooling for the final 4 at home. Rest and having everyone healthy for the playoffs is what we need more than winning the division or even coming in second.

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