Florida Panthers coach Paul Maurice has often said his team’s season turned itself around following a New Year’s Day loss to the New York Rangers which saw them eight points out of a playoff spot.
Things have certainly turned around.
This morning, the Panthers find themselves holding a playoff spot following a 5-2 win over the Detroit Red Wings.
”That’s amazing,’’ Carter Verhaeghe said when informed the Pittsburgh Penguins lost a few minutes prior. “That is what we are going for. I think we always believed in ourselves.
“We’re not done yet. We have crawled back, but there is still a lot of work left to do. I think we have a lot of great leadership, a lot of talented guys. There was some adjustment at the start of the year with a lot of new faces and a new coaching staff. But we’re starting to feel good about ourselves and getting our feet under us a little bit.”
It was no secret the Panthers needed to go on a run not yet seen by them this season, but they are in the midst of one now.
Going into their game Tuesday night in Philadelphia, the Panthers have a season-long seven-game point streak (6-0-1) and can get their third winning streak of 2023 with a win against the Flyers.
The Panthers were able to move into sole possession of the second wild card spot based on their win in Detroit and Pittsburgh suffering its fourth consecutive loss — this one to the Ottawa Senators.
Florida is also a point behind the New York Islanders for the top wild card spot with a game in hand.
The Panthers have been watching the scores fairly intently and, at least recently, many of them have gone in their favor.
The wild card race is likely down to just three teams: the Islanders, Florida and Pittsburgh.
The Panthers just want to keep winning.
If they do that, they will not have to worry about what anyone else does from here on out.
Florida has 12 left.
“These are meaningful games,” Verhaeghe said. “Last year, we were on the other side of it where it really did not matter what happened. Then we got shocked. Playing meaningful hockey coming down the stretch is always good.”
On Monday night, the Panthers knew they could not stumble against a Detroit team they have dominated over the past few years.
They did not.
Florida, which has won nine straight over the Wings and 19 of the past 21, jumped out to a 2-0 lead thanks to goals from Matthew Tkachuk and Verhaeghe.
Up 2-1 in the second, Gus Forsling scored with Sasha Barkov getting the big assist. That point made him the all-time leading scorer in franchise history.
Detroit again made it a one-goal game in the third on a nice goal from Dylan Larkin — but Eric Staal and Anthony Duclair broke out alone with Staal doing the honors with 3:52 left.
Verhaeghe iced it with a power play goal with 1:23 remaining.
All told, he had two goals while Tkachuk ended with three points continuing his point streak and tying the franchise record with 32 multi-point games in a single season.
Again, the Panthers are not done.
“Our goal is to have a playoff spot but we’re not stopping,” Barkov said. “We have a lot of games left. The way we are playing, we just want to keep going.”
PANTHERS ON DECK
FLORIDA PANTHERS AT PHILADELPHIA FLYERS
- When: Tuesday, 7 p.m.
- Where: Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia
- 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 (Tied 1-1): Florida 4, Philadelphia 3 (Oct. 19); Philadelphia 4, Florida 3 (Oct. 27)
- Last season: Florida won 3-0
- All-time regular season series: Philadelphia leads 56-37-6, 7 ties
- Up Next for the Panthers: Toronto at Florida, Thursday, 7 p.m.