Reporting Tim Kephart
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SUNRISE, Fla. (CBSMiami) – The Florida Panthers were all set to break out the champagne and celebrate the team’s first playoff berth in more than a decade, then the Winnipeg Jets finally showed up for Tuesday’s game and put the celebration on ice.
The Panthers took an early 3-0 lead on the Jets only to see Winnipeg wake up in the second period and abuse goalie Jose Theodore for the rest of the game. Theodore gave up four goals over the rest of regulation and then gave up the game winner about three minutes into overtime.
Florida has struggled with goalie play all season long. Currently, out of all the teams in the NHL set to make the playoffs, only Philadelphia and Ottawa have given up more goals this season.
The Panthers are in the odd position of being a playoff team that has given up more goals than they have scored. Florida has given up 222 goals this season and scored 197 goals this season.
For the Panthers, they are now literally as close as you can get to being in the playoffs without being in the playoffs. As of Wednesday, Florida has a total of 92 points and leads the Southeast Division by four points over the Washington Capitals.
Florida needs just one point to clinch the division and a playoff spot for the first time in the 2000’s. The Panthers though are nowhere near out of the woods just yet in clinching the division and home ice advantage in the first round.
Florida must travel to Washington Thursday to play the Caps. If Florida loses, Washington will close the gap between the two teams to just two points. That’s when the Buffalo Sabres could also enter into the equation.
Buffalo is currently tied with Washington for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The Sabres play the Philadelphia Flyers and Boston Bruins on Thursday and Saturday. It’s the toughest schedule any team hands on the way to the Eastern Conference playoffs.
But, if Florida loses on Thursday and Saturday against the Carolina Hurricanes; and Buffalo wins out; and Washington beats Florida and the New York Rangers on Saturday; there will be a three-way tie for the last two playoff spots in the Eastern Conference.
Of course the Panthers can end all of the speculation by beating or tying the Capitals on Thursday.
Florida backed themselves into this corner with losses against some of the worst teams in the National Hockey league. Their fate won’t be known until Thursday at the earliest, but a loss will put an immense amount of pressure on the Panthers and so far this season, pressure has been the Achilles heel for Florida.