Reporting Tim Kephart
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SUNRISE, Fla. (CBSMiami) – There are seven teams in the four major professional sports that haven’t been to the playoffs in the last decade. That list could shrink to six teams if the Florida Panthers beat the Winnipeg Jets Tuesday night.
The last time the Panthers were in the playoffs, Bill Clinton was president, and the economy was booming. Since then, 563 games have gone on the Stanley Cup and more than 200 players have skated for the Panthers.
Florida’s company on the list of major teams without a playoff berth includes: the NFL’s Buffalo Bills and MLB teams the Baltimore Orioles, Toronto Blue Jays, Kansas City Royals, Washington Nationals, and Pittsburgh Pirates.
It’s not exactly the company you want to keep as a pro sports team.
Entering Tuesday’s contest, the Panthers are ahead of the Washington Capitals in the Southeast Division by three points and are ahead of Buffalo by five points with three games remaining. In other words, the Panthers need just two points to clinch a playoff spot.
The Panthers can clinch the playoff spot at the Bank Atlantic Center with a victory Tuesday night. It would be a long-time coming for the Panthers faithful whose patience has been tried over the last decade by the team’s ownership.
“”You know what? This community and our fans deserve this, and our players know it,” Panthers President Michael Yormark said Monday. “I’ve been traveling with the team for the last week and they feel it, they know it. These fans have supported us for so long. We’ve got a core and this core stuck with us.”
The time the Panthers were in the playoffs, 2012’s leading scorer Stephen Weiss but only a teenager. The last time the Panthers won a playoff game, 1997, even this writer was still a teenager.
This year’s Panthers’ squad was built by general manager Dale Tallon who helped the Chicago Blackhawks end a 49-year playoff drought without a title. Tallon brought over some of his Chicago players to help steer the Panthers in the right direction.
Florida has been stockpiling talent in the minor and junior leagues for the last several years and with Tallon’s help, things have started to come together. The Panthers still have last year’s number three overall pick center Jonathan Huberdeau and future starting goalie Jacob Markstrom.
Huberdeau and Markstrom could be brought up to the NHL roster as soon as next season. But the focus of this team remains on Tuesday night’s home game against the Winnipeg Jets.
The Panthers have won three of five from the Jets, but interestingly, the Panthers victories all came in Winnipeg, not in the Bank Atlantic Center. A victory for the Panthers will give them the requisite two points and a playoff spot.
If the Panthers go to overtime, the team will still earn a point and be within one point of a playoff berth. A loss would put immense pressure on the team heading into Thursday’s matchup with second-place Washington.
Regardless of what happens, the Panthers could become the second South Florida team to reach the postseason in the last three years, joining the Miami Heat. The Miami Marlins look like a contender this year as well. The Dolphins are in rebuilding mode again this coming season.
(TM and © Copyright 2012 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2012 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)