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SUNRISE (CBSMiami) – For members of the Florida Panthers, Tuesday’s exit day meetings came much sooner than they had hoped.
After a tough start to the season, the Panthers were one of the league’s best teams following the All-Star break.
Ultimately they came up just short of a playoff spot.
“Not satisfied but we’ve come a long way,” said general manager Dale Tallon.
Panthers players met with management and the media for one last time before splitting up for the offseason, but everyone was unified in the feeling their season ended too soon.
The Panthers were just the second team ever to finish with 96 points in the standings and not make the playoffs.
“I’ve been here 5 years now,” said forward Nick Bjugstad. “Close isn’t good enough for us.”
“It’s huge to have a good start so in the end you have some points in the bank, and we didn’t,” added forward Jonathan Huberdeau.
The season was a learning process for the young Panthers, who played for their third head coach in three years.
“I don’t think anybody wasn’t buying in early on, I think it’s just a new system, a new coaching staff,” explained center Vincent Trocheck. “Everything was new, a lot of new players, so it just took a little time to get used to.”
The Cats capped their season on a five game win streak and tied for the best record in the NHL since the All-Star break.
According to head coach Bob Boughner, opponents were happy to see Florida fall one point shy of making a playoff run.
“You know the message that you get from a lot of other teams is that we’re happy we don’t have to see you guys in the first round because they know we’ve been playing top notch hockey,” Boughner said.
With Florida’s talented young core all singed for multiple years, expectations will be high when next season rolls around.
“We have good young players that finally believe and trust themselves and we’ll take this to another level,” said Tallon.
Unlike the local Miami Dolphins and Miami Marlins, the Panthers feel like their nucleus is set. So is their starting goalie.
Roberto Luongo, who turned 39 last week, made it clear he’ll be back for his 19th season.
“Oh yea for sure, I’m not going anywhere,” he said. “When you miss playing when you’re not, that’s an indication that you want to keep going.”
CBS Miami’s David Dwork contributed to this story.