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CBS 4's Steve Goldstein: Panthers have started playoffs early

By Steven Goldstein,

2023-03-14

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MIAMI -- Five weeks remain in the NHL regular season but the Panthers are already playing wild, heart-stopping playoff type hockey. In back-to-back home games over the weekend, they came back twice, erasing two goal deficits in the third period.

It's the only time this season they have done that.

Literally, any game that goes by that the Panthers come up pointless could doom their postseason hopes.

This team has refused to let that happen.

You don't have to wait until next month for the Stanley Cup playoffs...every game is playoff hockey now.

Comeback Cats are Back
After going most of the season without third period comebacks, the last two games have been a revelation. Friday against Chicago, the Panthers were continuing a maddening trend of not matching up with teams below them in the standings. Yet when the game was on the line, they scored three times, all the goals were set up by Matthew Tkachuk, and Brandon Montour won it in overtime. 24 hours later, they again fell behind against Winnipeg. The Jets led by two goals three times in the game, but Tkachuk did it again in the final period, scoring to tie the game at 4. While the Jets won it in overtime the Panthers earned a needed point, played a strong physical game, and kept themselves in the race.

Bouncing Back
After the comebacks, the Panthers are now on a 4 game-point streak with two games left on the homestand. The most encouraging numbers point to their bounce back ability. In 2023 they are 9-0-1 following a regulation loss. Likely needing about 11 wins in the final 15 games to reach the playoffs, the character this team has shown and the heart they play with gives hope it can be done.

What's Left
Fifteen games remain. The Panthers will next play on Thursday as they take their final multiple-day rest of the month. They have seven road games left, only 1 against a playoff team.

But the opponent hasn't meant much as the Panthers have played better against the better teams. Barring an unforeseen collapse by Sidney Crosby's Penguins, unlikely at this point, it seems the chase is for one final playoff spot.

The Islanders currently hold that spot and have the regulation wins tiebreak, by one game, over the Panthers but that can change quickly. The mission is the same as the last six weeks. Must wins on a nightly basis with very little margin for error.

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