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Desperation? Florida Panthers Finding it Hard to Fake

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Florida panthers
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.

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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