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2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs

What Is Next for the Florida Panthers?



Florida panthers
A flag flies above the Florida Panthers arena in Sunrise prior to the start of the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs last spring. // Photo @GeorgeRichards

After losing in overtime to the host Boston Bruins on Saturday afternoon, the Florida Panthers packed up and headed home. 

They may not be leaving for some time.

Florida has four games left in this regular season and has the inside track to open the 2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs in Sunrise. 

The Panthers have a five-point lead on the Toronto Maple Leafs in second place in the Atlantic Division, ensuring they will have home ice in the first round. 

Toronto certainly could catch the Panthers as it has played one fewer game — and visits Sunrise next Tuesday — which would flip things around. 

But, with the schedule coming up, the Panthers have to feel good about what comes next. 

Game 1 of Florida’s final homestand of this regular season comes Tuesday when the Ottawa Senators stumble into town. 

Not only did the Panthers beat the Senators 6-0 in Ottawa on Thursday, but it has outscored them 14-2 in three wins so far. 

Ottawa has lost its past three games following the end of its five-game winning streak. 

The Panthers will also welcome in Columbus and Buffalo before Toronto comes to town in a game that may have little meaning to either team save for Auston Matthews’ chase for 70 goals — and Sam Reinhart’s pursuit of the Panthers’ franchise record for goals in a season. 

Reinhart has 53 with four games left; Pavel Bure holds the record with 59 goals in 2000-01.

What happens after the four-game homestand?

Boston has a five-point lead over the Panthers in the Atlantic race, and it looks like the Bruins will win the division for the second straight season.

The Bruins could open against the top wild card in the Eastern Conference, currently held by the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Boston is also a point behind the New York Rangers for the top spot in the East, which will determine which team will play the final wild-card winner. 

Right now, that is Pittsburgh, but it could be a couple of teams, including the Islanders, Flyers, Capitals, or Red Wings.

Florida panthers

NHL Eastern Conference standings after Saturday night. // Very Professional Graphics (VPG) @GeorgeRichards

The Rangers have played one fewer game and make it up today when they host the Canadiens on the second of a back-to-back.

The Panthers will probably play the Maple Leafs in the first round, although Tampa Bay could catch them with a strong finish and take third in the division. 

If Florida plays Toronto, it will open the playoffs on April 20, likely around 7 p.m., to kick off Hockey Night in Canada coverage from Sunrise. 

If it is Tampa Bay, expect a start on Sunday or Monday. 

The Lightning has five games left and would be considered a favorite in all of them because of the way it is playing. 

Tampa Bay’s 5-4 loss in Pittsburgh on Saturday was just its third in 13 games. 

The Lightning end with a schedule similar to the Panthers; all four teams visiting the Panthers are also going to Tampa Bay.

The extra game is a trip to Washington, where the Capitals remain in the hunt for a playoff spot only the Penguins seem to really want.

Toronto does have a four-point lead on the Lightning and has played one fewer game.

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