The Florida Panthers are back in town and they have five games remaining to try and make it back to the NHL Stanley Cup playoffs for the third consecutive season.
Five games with four on home ice.
Their race to the finish line starts Tuesday night against a Buffalo team which has pulled itself into the mix.
While Florida comes into the week a point back of Pittsburgh for the last wild card and two behind the New York Islanders for the first, Buffalo is four behind the Panthers but play two more games.
The biggest stretch of the season starts with perhaps the biggest game of them all.
While they are all must-wins at this point, Florida can could not only strengthen its own status while helping extinguish the hopes of the Sabres.
The Panthers pulled themselves into the second wild card position on Saturday night with a 7-0 win in Columbus but the Pittsburgh Penguins took it back on Sunday night.
“This has been a great lesson for us to go through the past two months,” said coach Paul Maurice, whose team also plays host to Ottawa on Thursday before traveling to Washington on Saturday for the final road game of the regular season.
“You get all excited when you are up one and then you (lose) three and the world is coming to an end and then we fight our way back in. Resiliency is the most important part of this journey we have been on since January, bouncing back after tough losses or through injuries. We have to keep grinding.”
As things stand right now, the Panthers are in what has ended up being a four-team fight for two playoff spots.
The Islanders and Penguins currently hold them, but the Panthers are within striking range.
Both Pittsburgh and Florida have five games left so the Penguins can win out and take one of the wild card spots.
If Florida were to win out, it may end up tied with the Islanders — who have four games remaining — but the Panthers could end up holding the first tiebreaker against New York.
Both the Panthers and Islanders have 33 regulation wins; if both teams were to win all of their final games (in regulation), the Panthers would end up with one more than the Islanders and thereby win the tiebreaker.
Of course, that scenario assumes all three teams win out — which would mean an eight-game winning streak to end the season for the Panthers.
Pittsburgh had won just three of its past 10 games before beating the Flyers on Sunday night.
The Penguins next two games are against New Jersey (road) and Minnesota before they close with Detroit (road), Chicago and Columbus.
The Islanders next play host to Tampa Bay and finish with games against Philadelphia, Washington (road) and Montreal.
Florida ends its regular season next week with home games against playoff qualifiers Toronto and Carolina.
”(Playing at home) is good for us because we are a good home team,’’ Maurice said. “We need that home crowd and we get to rest up. We have paid for our road schedule this season and I am glad it is over.”
PANTHERS ON DECK
BUFFALO SABRES AT FLORIDA PANTHERS
- When: Tuesday, 7 p.m.
- Where: FLA Live Arena, Sunrise
- 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
- Season Series (Florida leads 2-1): Panthers 4, Sabres 3 (Oct. 15); Panthers 4, Sabres 1 (Jan. 16); Sabres 3, Panthers 1 (Feb. 24)
- Last season: Florida won 3-0
- All-time regular season series: Florida leads 53-45-8, 4 ties
- Up Next for the Panthers: Ottawa Senators at Florida, Thursday, 7 p.m.