The Florida Panthers head into the 2nd half of the season just 1 point out of the playoffs. It's been awhile since this team has been in this position, so foreseeing what the future holds for this team is a little difficult. We've seen Florida play at extremely high levels. We've also witnessed a team that doesn't show up. Lately, it's been more of the former, which is promising. We'll see which team shows up for the playoff push starting tomorrow night.
The Panthers have 36 games left. The last few years, 92 points has gotten you to the playoffs. Florida currently has 50. So, exercising my 4th grade mathematics, the Cats will likely need 42 points in 36 games. 21 wins out of 36. 6 games over .500 the rest of the year. Now obviously, OT and SO losses will contribute, but let's not get too complicated.
Let's look at the schedule! The Panthers have 7 games left against the most likely competition for that 8th seed (2 against Carolina, 2 in Buffalo, 3 against Pittsburgh). Florida also has 10 games left against teams that are currently at or near the bottom of the table (Atlanta, Tampa Bay, the Islanders, Toronto, St. Louis, and Dallas). There are a couple of key weeks left in the season. At the end of February, the Cats take a 4 game road trip in which they will visit 4 playoff teams (Boston, the Rangers, New Jersey, and Washington). Then, in mid-March, a 5 game home stand against 4 lesser teams (Tampa, Washington, Toronto, Columbus, Carolina), where the Panthers will almost certainly need to win 4 of 5.
So is it possible? Of course it is. The Cats have been playing well of late, earning at least a point in 8 of their last 9 games (5-1-3). What could be key is earning that extra bonus point in the shootout. Florida is just 2-6 this year in shootouts. That's 6 dropped points. If they'd gone 6-2 instead, they'd be the 7th seed today. Earning 2 points every chance they have is vital.
I don't know about you, but I'm pretty excited about these next few months. Panthers hockey has been pretty meaningless in March for more then a few seasons lately. It'll be fun to watch the Cats fight it out for the remainder of the year. First chance to earn 2 points comes tomorrow night, at home against the Flyers.