Jason Brough

Florida Panthers center Aleksander Barkov (16) celebrates a goal by right wing Jaromir Jagr (68) during the second period of an NHL hockey game against the Montreal Canadiens, Saturday, April 2, 2016, in Sunrise, Fla. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
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Jagr on playoff-bound Panthers: ‘There are so many doubters when it comes to our team’

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The Florida Panthers clinched a playoff berth Sunday, and they didn’t even have to put their equipment on.

It was Boston’s 6-4 loss to Chicago that gave Florida its first postseason spot since 2012. The Panthers haven’t won a playoff series since 1996 — two decades ago — when they went all the way to the Stanley Cup Final. This will be just their fifth postseason appearance since entering the league in 1993.

According to Jaromir Jagr, the Panthers still need to prove to many that they’re for real.

“There are so many doubters when it comes to our team, and that’s fine with us,” Jagr said Saturday, per the Miami Herald.

Jagr is correct that there are doubters, and not just because of the club’s history. The analytics suggest that the Panthers don’t dominate games, that they’re all the way down with the Edmonton Oilers in terms of puck possession.

But then, if the playoffs were to start today, the Panthers would face the Islanders in the first round. And the Islanders, who haven’t won a series since 1993, are hardly a perfect team themselves.

At the very least, Florida has achieved its main objective for 2015-16.

“It’s really all about the playoffs for our team; nothing beneath that will be acceptable,” Roberto Luongo said over the summer. “I think as a group we realize that and demand that of ourselves.”

Senators in the ‘process’ of studying potential changes

Dave Cameron
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Last week, Senators owner Eugene Melnyk suggested there could be significant organizational changes in Ottawa, going so far as to say that “nobody is safe.”

Today, general manager Bryan Murray essentially said the same thing.

“After talking to Eugene, over a month ago now, we both kind of agreed we just kind of had to take a look at everything that was going on, from player development to on-ice product,” Murray told reporters, per the Ottawa Citizen.

“That process won’t take a long time, I don’t think. Part of the reason we’ve got everybody on the road this trip, and a couple of previous trips, is we’re just sitting around doing a lot of talking and a lot of evaluation of where we are (with) what players and what else has to happen here to make it better.”

The Sens will miss the playoffs for the second time in three seasons. And remember that they needed a miraculous late-season run just to qualify last year, before falling to Montreal in the first round.

Ottawa’s most glaring issues are defensive. They have the fourth-highest goals-against average (2.96) and the second-worst penalty kill (75.9%).

Obviously, that doesn’t reflect well on the coaching staff, led by Dave Cameron.

On the other hand, it was Cameron who took over last year and led the Sens on that miracle run. He ended up finishing sixth in the Jack Adams Award voting.

“We’ll go through the whole group: I’m part of it,” said Murray. “Did I do enough? What else can we do from a management side here to help the product on the ice?”

Related: It’s a short list of coaches on the hot seat

Bruins sign Grzelcyk (who just so happens to be pals with Jimmy Vesey)

Boston University defenseman Matt Grzelcyk smiles as he hoists the Beanpot trophy after his game-winning goal against Northeastern during overtime of the college hockey Beanpot Tournament's championship game in Boston, Monday, Feb. 23, 2015. Boston University defeated Northeastern 4-3. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
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The Bruins announced today that they’d signed Boston University defenseman Matt Grzelcyk to a two-year entry-level contract. The deal will start next season. In the meantime, the Charlestown native will join AHL Providence on an amateur tryout agreement.

Grzelcyk was a third-round pick of Boston’s in 2012. After spending four years at BU, if he didn’t sign with the Bruins, he could’ve become an unrestricted free agent on Aug. 15, a la Harvard’s Jimmy Vesey.

Speaking of whom, Grzelcyk and Vesey are childhood pals, so this — despite the protests of some –will only add to the speculation that Vesey will choose to sign with the B’s this summer.

Toronto is the other team that’s been linked to Vesey.

Related: Vesey will reportedly sign with the B’s

Goalie nods: Desperate Red Wings turn back to Howard

Detroit Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard blocks a shot from the Los Angeles Kings during the second period of an NHL hockey game in Los Angeles, Monday, Jan. 11, 2016. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)
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Their playoff streak on the line, the Red Wings are turning to their veteran netminder tonight at home to Minnesota.

Jimmy Howard will get the start over the Wings’ struggling youngster, Petr Mrazek.

From MLive:

Petr Mrazek has been pulled in his past two starts and in three of his past four. Mrazek, since Feb. 12, is 6-6-2, with a 3.40 goals-against average and .885 save percentage.

Not that Howard has been lights out himself — his numbers have been mediocre at best — but he’s been better than Mrazek.

The bottom line for the Wings is that the goaltending needs to improve, and so do the players in front of the goalie.

“In March we’ve given up too many goals,” coach Jeff Blashill told reporters. “For the most part we just got to clean up mental errors. We just got to make sure we’re sharp in our decisions every single time.”

It’s April now, so perhaps the Wings can put March’s defensive issues behind them. If they can’t, then it may be the Pittsburgh Penguins that end up owning the NHL’s longest postseason-appearance streak.

No word yet on who will start for the Wild. It’s an interesting decision for coach John Torchetti. Devan Dubnyk started last night at home to Ottawa, allowing three goals on just 22 shots in a 3-2 loss, but backup Darcy Kuemper hasn’t played in a couple of weeks so there could be a rust factor there.

The Wild still haven’t officially clinched a playoff spot.

Elsewhere…

Tuukka Rask likely for the Bruins in St. Louis, where Brian Elliott will go for the Blues. (Boston is just one point ahead of Detroit for third place in the Atlantic.)

Scott Darling for the Blackhawks in Winnipeg. Ondrej Pavelec for the Jets.

Braden Holtby for the Capitals in Colorado. Semyon Varlamov for the Avs.

Jacob Markstrom‘s a possibility for Vancouver in Anaheim, after Ryan Miller played last night in San Jose. For the Ducks, John Gibson is expected.

Canada’s NHL playoff shutout has ‘painful’ business ramifications

A woman holds up a Canadian flag as the national anthem is played during pre-game ceremonies at the NHL game between the Ottawa Senators and New Jersey Devils, Saturday, Oct. 25, 2014 in Ottawa, Ontario. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Adrian Wyld)
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Paul Samborski and his father, Lenn, were at Winnipeg Arena for the original Jets’ final playoff game in 1996 before the team moved to Phoenix. When the NHL returned in 2011, Samborski joined the thousands of fans who signed up for season tickets and brought his dad to the new Jets’ first home playoff game last year against Anaheim.

“I lost my voice in the first period screaming at Ryan Kesler,” Samborski said. “It was a lot of fun. The whole city was buying in. It was all everybody talked about.”

A year later, the Jets are out of contention and a spring of discontent is looming for Winnipeg — and the rest of Canada, too.

None of the seven Canadian NHL teams was good enough this season to reach the Stanley Cup playoffs, a dismal milestone in the home of modern hockey and the first time it has happened since the 1969-70 season.

Back then, only Montreal and Toronto were the only possibilities in a 12-team league. So going 0 for 7 is an unprecedented blow that will be felt not just in Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Winnipeg, Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver but nationally.

“It’s painful,” said Rod Appleby, manager of Hurley’s Irish Pub in Montreal. “It’s painful on a fan point and it’s painful on a business point. … We’ve got to keep going, keep doing what we do and watch the playoffs, but the other problem is there’s no Canadian team, so who do we watch?”

It’s not quite the same kind of existential national crisis that comes each time Canada doesn’t win a gold medal at the Olympics or world junior championship. But the phenomenon of a playoff season without a Canadian team is having real consequences.

At Rogers, the telecom giant that shelled out $5.2 billion (Canadian) to buy the national TV rights for 12 years, flagship network Sportsnet is feeling the pinch. Scott Moore, president of Sportsnet and NHL properties for Rogers, says he cheers with his heart for the Canadiens and cheers with his wallet for every Canadian team.

“This has been a tough year,” Moore said. “To have seven Canadian teams out of it – and what really is as difficult or more difficult is they’ve been out if it for weeks, if not months, so the ratings have been a challenge for I’d say, six, seven, eight weeks that the teams have been out of it. That makes it a challenging year for us.”

Rogers Media recently laid off several employees, including Sportsnet on-air personalities Hugh Burrill, James Cybulski and Jamie Thomas. Moore said it has been challenging for the company to get sponsors excited for playoffs.

Last year, five Canadian teams made the playoffs, but Commissioner Gary Bettman isn’t worried about having none this time.

“As long as the hockey is entertaining and exciting and competitive, we’re hoping and expecting that fans will tune in and watch great hockey,” Bettman told The Canadian Press.

Tom Renney, president and CEO of Hockey Canada, said technology allows fans to keep up with non-local teams and players. Moore also said online streaming service NHL GameCentre Live is seeing high viewership.

Yet having no Canadian teams in the playoffs still makes a difference.

“I think that there are ramifications,” said Renney, who has also coached the Oilers and Canucks. “We want someone to participate in the game at all levels, and it matters what’s going on within our borders at the highest level that it’s played, and that is the National Hockey League and our seven Canadian teams.”

Even if there were only realistic playoff expectations in Montreal, Ottawa, Winnipeg, Calgary and Vancouver, the lack of games makes a huge dent in revenue. According to league estimates, each playoff game generates between $1.5 million and $2 million for the home team, and that doesn’t count the impact on local businesses.

Appleby said during the 2012-13 lockout that other Montreal bars were in danger of closing their doors because hockey is such a draw. And the playoffs bring a vibe like few other things in sports.

“The energy, there’s more drinking, there’s more round-buying, there’s more shots, there’s more everything – everyone’s happy,” Appleby said. “Not so much this year.”

Samborski said he will still watch the playoffs but won’t be as engaged as he was last year. Moore knows “hard-core” hockey fans will still watch, and Sportsnet will sell the “March Madness” aspect of the playoffs and hope Canadian-born stars like Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Jonathan Toews of the Chicago Blackhawks and Drew Doughty of the Los Angeles Kings attract casual fans who might otherwise turn away.

Moore is optimistic that this 0-for-Canada won’t happen again for a long time and future years will see Canadian teams dominating the playoffs.

“We’re going to have some years where things are out-of-control great,” Moore said. “If the Leafs or the Canucks or the (Canadiens) ever make the final, I always joke there’ll be two parades. There’ll be one for the team and then one for whoever’s sitting in this office at the time because they’ll say, `What a great hockey deal that was.’ I’m hoping I’m still here after this year, so we’ll see.”