When the likely sixth-seed New Jersey Devils face off against the eventual Southeast Division winner, they’re probably not going to be too intimidated. Still, the Florida Panthers at least carried the most inspiring story into the possible division crown and the third seed that comes with it, but that triumph suddenly is in some doubt.
The Blue Jackets gave the Panthers a sound 4-1 beating in Columbus tonight, holding Florida to 90 standings points – just four more than the ninth-place Washington Capitals with both teams having four games left on their schedules. (And come to think of it, the Caps actually hold the tiebreaker advantage at the moment, so one could call it the equivalent to a “three” point lead.)
Flopping down the stretch
On paper, the Panthers should have been socking away points lately, but they’re instead 1-2-3 in their last six games, needing a shootout win against the lowly Montreal Canadiens for their only victory. In that time, they’ve lost shootouts to the Carolina Hurricanes and Edmonton Oilers, regulation losses to the Blue Jackets and Hurricanes and an OT defeat to the Minnesota Wild.
In other words, if Florida manages a seemingly unthinkable drop from the playoffs, they’ll blame other teams that are golfing early.
Setting up for a showdown against Washington
The schedule gets more interesting after tonight, so if motivation is an issue, half of Florida’s schedule will give them extra inspiration. It starts with an away game against the Detroit Red Wings, then a presumably “easy” home game against the Winnipeg Jets.
It gets really interesting on Thursday, April 5, however. They’ll visit the Washington Capitals in what could be the Southeast Division’s version of the New York Rangers vs. Pittsburgh Penguins – a game that could have serious division title implications (especially if it ends in regulation). After that, the Panthers will face the Hurricanes at home – which very well might be a fight for their Southeast title – and maybe even playoff – lives.