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Welcome to the Dwork On Sports blog.  This is a place where I’ll cover all things related to South Florida sports, with a steady combination of facts and opinions while ultimately keeping a close eye on anything and everything related to our local teams.

Dwork On Sports

Last night the Florida Panthers played their biggest game since Game 7 in the opening round of the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs.  The Cats came away with a huge victory in Ottawa to keep their slim playoff hopes alive, but now have an even bigger game on the horizon tomorrow night in Boston.

The Bruins currently hold the second Wild Card spot with 89 points in 76 games.  Ottawa is three points behind Boston but has played only 75 games.  Then comes the Panthers, four points back of Boston after 76 games played.

Down four points with six games to go isn’t an ideal situation, but the surging Panthers have good reason to be optimistic.  Of their six remaining games, two of them are against the Bruins.

So while Florida doesn’t quite hold their playoff fate in their own hands, its close.  If the Cats can come away with regulation wins in the two games against Boston, they need to gain just one point more than the B’s in the four remaining games to overtake them in the standings.

That won’t matter much however if the Senators get hot again, as they have one more game to play than the Panthers and Bruins.

Still, after a ridiculous hot streak in which Ottawa went 15-1-1 they’ve fallen back to earth and lost three straight.  The Sens will face playoff teams in five of their final seven games, including three of their last four.

As for Boston, four of their final five games come on the road and aside from the two games against Florida, three of their other four remaining games come against playoff teams.

(Source: Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)

(Source: Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)

Don’t get me wrong, the Panthers schedule is no cake walk either. Yes, they finish the season with five straight at the BB&T Center but they haven’t exactly been a dominant home team this year.

The good thing for Florida is that they’ve been playing their best hockey of the season for the past several weeks.  They’re 7-3-1 in their last 11 games, and the three losses have been games where the Panthers were the better team but ran into a very hot goalie.

Another positive is that while Florida hasn’t been particularly scary as a home team, they’ve gone 6-2-1 in their last nine games in Sunrise.

One of those two losses was the infamous ‘goalie injury’ game in which both Roberto Luongo and Al Montoya went down with injuries.  The other loss was a game that the Panthers put 21 shots on goal during the 3rd period but couldn’t solve Canadiens’ backup netminder Dustin Tokarski.

Speaking of the injured goalie situation, I have to mention how Dan Ellis saved the season for Florida.  He’s gone 4-2-1 since being called into duty and has played absolutely stellar at a time where the Panthers needed it the most.

Ellis has compiled a 2.11 goals against average and .922 save percentage in his seven games played.  While it’s a very small sample size, it’s worth noting that his GAA would be ranked 4th in the NHL and his save percentage would be 10th.

Currently, Luongo is ranked 11th in the league with a .921 save percentage and 14th with a 2.33 goals against which are very solid numbers, but it gives you a nice base for comparison to Ellis.

(Source: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

(Source: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

After his disastrous debut with the Panthers last season (0-5-0 record with a 4.80 GAA and .836 save percentage in 6 games played), I was not very optimistic about him being called into duty even though he’d been having a great season with Florida’s AHL affiliate in San Antonio.

Between Luongo and Ellis, the Panthers have the goaltending to not only get them into the playoffs, but to succeed therein.  But first, they have to get there.

Florida knows that the playoffs are a very real possibility but if the Panthers want to keep those hopes alive through their season-ending 5-game homestand, they have to win Tuesday in Boston.

If the game in Ottawa felt like a playoff game to you (and it sure as hell did for me), just wait until tomorrow night.  Falling six points behind the Bruins with five games left will all but kill Florida’s playoff hopes.

It’s not a true elimination game, but the Panthers know that their final road contest of the season is as close to a ‘must win’ as you can get.

Sunday in Ottawa was very similar, and the Cats played one of their best games of the year.  Can they do it again in Boston, a place they haven’t won since 2011?

The Panthers made the playoffs that season, and they may make them again if they can leave Boston with a crucial two points.

Follow David on Twitter (@DavidDwork

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