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Florida Panthers In NHL Purgatory at Trade Deadline

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Florida panthers trade deadline
Matthew Tkachuk attempts a shot against the Nashville Predators on Thursday night in Sunrise. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

SUNRISE — The good news for fans of the Panthers is that you can stop the scoreboard watching. The bad news is the NHL Trade Deadline is this afternoon and Florida is in no-man’s land.

It really does not matter what Pittsburgh or Detroit, the Islanders, Ottawa and Buffalo (among others) are doing on a nightly basis.

Not when the Panthers do not handle their own business.

On Thursday night, the Panthers lost to the Nashville Predators — a team that has traded away a good chunk of their team the past few days — for the second time in a span of two weeks.

Florida was embarrassed in Nashville on Nov. 18 with a 7-3 loss.

The 2-1 loss on Thursday in Sunrise was more disheartening than anything else.

Paul Maurice, perhaps the most positive public voice among the Panthers, seemed to be at a complete loss for words following Thursday’s unexpected defeat.

Yet, if you have followed this team all season, expecting the unexpected is probably a good way to go.

The Panthers are playing tonight? Flip a coin.

”The second period, they went as hard as they could and had lots of opportunities,’’ Maurice said, his sentences broken as he searched to find the words to describe what just happened.

“We (tried) to put pucks to the net but that did not happen. We were victimized by how we put the puck in the offensive zone in the third, did not create the sustained pressure we did in the second.”

The Panthers have been very vocal in their comments to the press that each game moving forward is a “must-win” game and needs to be treated as such.

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Then came another game like Thursday.

Or last week against Buffalo — or even the one they won against Anaheim in overtime.

Regardless of the opponent, this Florida team only looks like a playoff team every couple of games.

The Panthers certainly looked the part Tuesday in Tampa.

They did not look like a playoff team on Thursday, losing to a team they should have handled.

This is no time for excuses.

The Panthers did not play a bad game against the Predators.

They still should have won, and done so handily.

”There is massive frustration, but if you use it the right way … we’re definitely upset with the results but we have not let it go from game to game,’’ Matthew Tkachuk told FHN following a performance in which Florida officially missed the net 23 times (by the NHL’s light count) and had a 81-41 shot advantage.

“We have played some really good games and we’re going to have to do so Friday. Every game is so big right now. I hope we come out better at the start. Maybe we overlooked this team but there is no reason we should be overlooking anyone right now. We need wins so bad. Nashville had a lot of young guys in their lineup after so many were traded away. They tried to make their mark.”

The NHL Trade Deadline comes today at 3 and the Panthers have stood firm thus far.

The belief is, Florida’s management wants to see what this team can do when at close to 100 percent and may add a small — all it can afford under a Ziploc tight salary cap — piece today.

But after Thursday’s showing, one has to wonder if general manager Bill Zito tries to recoup some draft capital and finds a new home for pending free agents such as Radko Gudas, Eric and Marc Staal.

The Panthers have 19 games left in this season. This team has only won three consecutive games once yet probably have to win 15 of the final 19 to make it.

And, even if they do get in, does anyone have confidence a first-round series against the Bruins would make it to five games?

While Zito does not have much he would like to sell at this deadline, he does have a couple pieces here and there.

The Panthers are not trading Sam Bennett or Sam Reinhart despite the rumors running rampant.

Zito and the Panthers like the team they have and knew this season would be a step back from the good times of the previous one.

Florida is set up pretty nicely moving forward.

They want to build on what has been built, not tear it apart.

Anything they do today at the Trade Deadline will be done with the future of the franchise — not the immediate one but for years ahead — in mind.

Something may change.

It may not.

Regardless, it may not matter.

“In Tampa, we embraced the underdog status with the people out,” Maurice said.

The Panthers have to be looked at as the underdog the rest of the way. We shall see if they embrace it or not.

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