MONTREAL, Quebec (CBSMiami) – The Florida Panthers continue to cling to the lead in the Southeast Division as the team looks for a much-needed playoff spot and possibly a division championship.

The Panthers have lost three in a row after winning five straight. Now, the Panthers are hitting the road for what should be an easy road trip and a way to guarantee the team a division title and playoff berth.

The Panthers road trip starts with a game against the Montreal Canadiens. The Canadiens are the worst team in the Eastern Conference with just 71 points on the season and a record of 29-24-13. The Canadiens are playing for pride at this point as they have no shot at the playoffs.

After the Montreal game, the Panthers head to Minnesota to play the Wild, who are just one point better than the Canadiens, albeit in the Western Conference. The Cats again shouldn’t have any problems with the Wild, at least on paper.

The Panthers finish the month and the road trip with a game against the worst team in the National Hockey League, the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Jackets are 25-45-7 on the season and have just 55 points on the season.

Again, there’s no reason why the Panthers shouldn’t be favored or win the upcoming games as they fight for playoff positioning.

Three wins and two losses by Buffalo or Washington and the Panthers will lock up a playoff spot for the first time since Bill Clinton occupied the White House.

But, the Panthers had better get those three wins this week because the final four games of the regular season in April are extremely tough. The Cats play the perennial powerhouse that is the Detroit Red Wings on Sunday, followed by the Winnipeg Jets, the Capitals, and the Carolina Hurricanes.

It’s possible the Cats could be looking to claim a playoff spot with the games against the Jets and Capitals next week. But, Florida would be much happier to be able to cruise into the playoffs after winning three straight this week.

The Panthers are on the cusp of going from worst to first in the NHL Southeast Division. It’s no small accomplishment for the squad and says a lot about coach Kevin Dineen and general manager Dale Tallon.

The Panthers will also be just the second South Florida team to reach the playoffs in recent years, joining the powerhouse that is the Miami Heat. The Miami Marlins will fight for a wild card spot this year. The Miami Dolphins are in full-fledged rebuilding mode and may not see the playoffs for a few more years.

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