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With 6 Games Left, Should the Florida Panthers Start Winning?

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Sam Reinhart takes a shot at Tampa Bay’s Andrei Vasilevskiy on March 16. If the Panthers turn things around and start winning, they could face the Lightning in the first round. As things stand, it looks like they’ll open with Toronto. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

The Florida Panthers have lost eight of their past 10 going into tonight’s game in Ottawa.

The team certainly could use a win — although, does it really matter right now?

With Toronto losing to Tampa Bay on Wednesday night, it looks more and more like Florida will open the playoffs on or around April 20 against the Maple Leafs.

Florida is four points back of the Boston Bruins for first place in the Atlantic Division.

Both teams have six games left, including the final game between the two this regular season Saturday afternoon in Boston.

Florida would hold the tiebreaker if the Panthers were to start winning again and tied Boston atop the divisional standings — and that could mean a meeting with Tampa Bay instead of Toronto.

Paul Maurice said Tuesday that the Panthers are not trying to manipulate who they would meet in the postseason, they are just letting things play out.

“Where you finish does not matter at all,” Maurice said before Tuesday’s 5-3 loss to the Canadiens. “The things you think you know, you don’t know. By that, I mean, you think you line up well against a team and want to play that team, that’s a bad idea. That is the kiss of death.

“You take whomever you sort yourself out with at the end of the year. I want us to understand our game; it is a hard, physical game and it is difficult to play without a fire, without a little bit of juice. We clinched the playoffs, we play a hard game, have some sick guys and some banged-up guys. It is hard to drive this every night. Maybe I am being careful with my team right now.’’

The Panthers could finish the road trip without the services of top defenseman Aaron Ekblad.

Ekblad left Tuesday’s game after taking down Juraj Slafkovsky in the final minute of the first period and did not return.

Maurice said after the game that he has no interest in putting players at risk before the playoffs.

Uvis Balinskis was recalled by the Panthers Wednesday and met the team in Ottawa.

He is expected to play tonight.

“The way things are going now,” Maurice said, “someone could take a shot off a foot, break a bone in their foot, so I am not risking it. We are not all in on this. Let’s just get off the ice before someone else gets hurt.’’

For the most in-depth coverage of the Florida Panthers:

ON DECK

FLORIDA PANTHERS @ OTTAWA SENATORS

  • When: Thursday, 7 p.m.
  • Where: Canadian Tire Center, Ottawa
  • 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, NHL App
  • Last Season: Florida won 2-1
  • This Season (Panthers Lead 2-0) — At Ottawa: Panthers 5, Senators 0 (Nov.27); Thursday. At Florida: Panthers 3, Senators 2 OT (Feb. 20); Tuesday.
  • All-time Regular Season Series: Ottawa leads 57-46-5, 3 ties
  • Up Next for the Panthers: Saturday at Boston, 3:30 (ABC)

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