Om Monday morning, Florida Panthers coach Paul Maurice talked about his team needing to embrace the challenge of being in the thick of a playoff race, of relishing their place in the spotlight.
Once again, the Panthers did not rise to the occasion.
A four-game losing streak in December is bad enough but one in the final weeks of a season is a killer — and the Panthers may just be dead as far as the postseason goes.
On Monday night, the Panthers chased the host Senators the entire night and lost their fourth consecutive game as Ottawa celebrated its role as spoiler with a 5-2 win.
A week ago, the Panthers were holding the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference and feeling pretty chipper what with a season-long seven-game point streak.
Then they lost in Philadelphia to the rebuilding Flyers.
Bump in the road? It was not.
The Panthers have not won since beating the Red Wings in Detroit last Monday night.
Sam Bennett was hurt in that Detroit game and has not played since. Does not look like a coincidence as Florida has won just three of 10 games that he has missed due to injury.
If Pittsburgh wins in Detroit as it should on Tuesday night, the Panthers will be five points out of the playoffs.
You may as well turn out the lights on on this 2022-23 season.
“We, for the most part, did not have a bad performance,” said Matthew Tkachuk, whose younger brother Brady gave the Sens a 1-0 lead they never surrendered.
“I thought we were pretty good most of the night. We got into some penalty trouble and they capitalized on their power plays and we didn’t. They pretty much crushed us in the whole special teams team battle. That’s something we have had a tough time with and need to figure out.”
Ah, the special teams. Yes, they were once again subpar as they went scoreless on their four power play chances.
Ottawa, meanwhile, scored on three of five chances with the man advantage.
If you are going to lead the league in penalties, you better have a good penalty kill.
The Panthers do not.
Coming into Tuesday, Florida’s penalty kill is ranked 28th in the NHL.
Florida was down 3-2 late in the third when Anton Lundell lost a faceoff and played the puck with his glove. Ottawa scored and that was that.
After the game, Maurice talked about his team playing “their asses off’’ and, sure, they did.
There were no lapses of slow play or any sign of a lack of effort from the Panthers on Monday night. They just did not make the plays when needed, missed 17 shots while having 18 blocked.
Losing this game on Jan. 4 is fine. Whatever. Get the next one.
The Panthers simply cannot afford losses right now, especially to non-playoff teams like Philadelphia and Ottawa.
Just getting two of these games into overtime puts them a point behind the Penguins for the final wild card spot.
Getting nothing out of these four is just more dirt being tossed onto the casket.
To make the playoffs now and extend this season will take another huge run for this team which would make (checks notes) just their second one of the season.
With eight games left, the Panthers probably have to go 7-1 to even sniff a chance.
Florida visits Toronto on Wednesday and has not won there since a few weeks before the Covid shutdowns in 2020.
”We’re playing one of the best teams in the league in a few days,” Tkachuk said. “It doesn’t get easier, when it comes to opponents, that’s for sure.”
Eetu Luostarinen spoke Monday and said his team still has the confidence to finish this thing off right.
It just does not sound, nor look, like it.
The Panthers may be playing “their asses off” but they look broken.
”All the games are really big for us,” Luostarinen said. “We need to hit the bus and start focusing on the next one. We are a very confident group and know we have what it takes. We’re ready for the push.”
A push back on this losing streak would at least be a start.
PANTHERS ON DECK
FLORIDA PANTHERS AT TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS
- When: Wednesday, 7:30 p.m.
- Where: Scociabank Arena, Toronto
- 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 (Toronto leads 2-0): Maple Leafs 5, Panthers 4 OT (Jan. 17); Maple Leafs 6, Panthers 2 (Mar. 23)
- Last season: Florida won 2-1
- All-time regular season series: Toronto leads 47-35-7, 7 ties
- Up Next for the Panthers: Thursday at Montreal Canadiens, 7 p.m