The Florida side will have to try again to move up the ranking in the last straight
MONTREAL – The Florida Panthers are far from being in uncharted territory. Once again this season, they will have to orchestrate a major comeback in the standings in the final stretch of the season, just to have hope of competing in the playoffs.
It almost worked last year. Ten points from second place in the fourth ace playoffs on January 31, the Panthers had started and maintained a 15-5-2 record after the transaction deadline to finally move to a single point to earn a place in the playoffs.
The task does not look any easier this year. On the eve of Tuesday’s duel against the Canadians (7:30 p.m. (ET); RDS, TSN2), they are 12 points behind the New York Islanders and second in fourth ace in the East.
« We need to get started, » said head coach Bob Boughner in the morning. It is time to be desperate and play with a sense of urgency. It’s time to start putting points in the bank. The guys know it, they’re not stupid.
« They see what the other teams are doing and watch the games every night. Sooner or later, something will have to happen or it will be too late. »
One thing is certain, not much is happening right now with the Floridians. Since the beginning of the New Year, Boughner’s side have conceded six straight defeats (0-4-2) and conceded no less than 26 goals to their opponents during this sequence.
With three games in hand and 13 points behind the Montrealers and first place in fourth ace, let’s say this would be a good time to take a first win in 2019.
« If you look at the rankings, it’s easy to start being negative, » said Montreal defender Mike Matheson. It’s important for us to focus on each game. Tonight is important to us. »
Given the importance of the moment, Boughner redesigned his trios somewhat – sending Frank Vatrano on the first unit with Aleksander Barkov and Evgeny Dadonov – in addition to holding a meeting with his players to try to rekindle the spark.
« We hope this is the last game, » said striker Jonathan Huberdeau, who has scored 30 points in his last 24 games. At some point, you have to work on the ice. If we work hard, we’ll be fine. We have a good team, but we’re going out flat right now.
« We’re in the same situation as last year. You just have to start winning games. Our guards do the work, you have to be better in front of them. »
Never too late, never too late
The experience they gained last year in their desperate quest for a playoff spot will certainly be very useful in their new attempt to buy another atrocious start to the season.
The Panthers may have lost their last six games, but it should not be forgotten that it took them 10 games before they scored their first regular time win (2-5-3) early in the season.
« We did it last year even though we missed the playoffs by one point, » said Huberdeau. You never want to give up. It’s too early to say you won’t do the series. You never know what can happen in this league. You can start with a sequence of ten wins… We have the team to do it, you just have to work hard. If we pay attention to the details, we’ll have a chance. »
If things do not change quickly, General Manager Dale Tallon may be tempted to make significant changes to this core group of players who have only competed in the series once in the past six years.
« There’s no point in going back, » Huberdeau pleaded. The important thing is the present, it’s where we are. I want to do the series, I’m tired. This is my seventh season here and we did the series once. It’s not pleasant to have long summers and that has to change this year.
« We sure want to keep our core. If it doesn’t work, it’s going to change and it’s up to us to make sure it doesn’t change. »