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The Anatomy Of A Playoff Season

Friday, 04.06.2012 / 3:14 PM / News
By Alain Poupart  -
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The Anatomy Of A Playoff Season
Forwards Tomas Kopecky (trade), Sean Bergenheim (signing) and Marcel Goc (signing) were all brought in to help turn around the Panthers and have helped the team back to the playoffs for the first time since 2000. (Getty Images)
Panthers General Partner Cliff Viner makes it a point to stay behind the scenes, but he was on hand for that memorable press conference at the BankAtlantic Center last July.
It was the day the Panthers introduced all the newcomers they had brought through free agency and a couple of astute trades. The packed table of new faces was actually without two new Panthers because Sean Bergenheim was on his honeymoon and Marcel Goc was busy with his newborn son.
Viner listened to what General Manager Dale Tallon, Assistant GM Mike Santos and the players had to say, and then offered his thoughts on the possibility of a quick turnaround to a small group of reporters after the end of the press conference.
“I’m not as astute at hockey, but let me put it to you this way: Dale and Mike and Kevin (Dineen) and Craig (Ramsay) all think so. I believe in Dale, in what he’s done. I believe in Mike. I believe what they’re doing for us and they believe this is a quality enough team to get to the playoffs.”
They were right.
After 10 frustrating playoff-less seasons, one year removed from finishing last in the Eastern Conference, with a first-year head coach and an overhauled roster, the Panthers are in the playoffs.
There were some who believed it couldn’t be done, not with that many changes.
ESPN analyst Barry Melrose was among those, saying, “I’ve got to think they’re going to be the worst team in the Eastern Conference.”
The Panthers, though, had other ideas.
While the blueprint for Tallon and Santos always has been — and remains — building for the long term, the players believed from the start they had the makings of a playoff team this season.
When the Panthers found themselves in first place in late November, Kris Versteeg remembered what had been said about them.
“It hasn’t surprised us at all,” he said of the team’s good start. “We talked about it before the season. I hear a guy like Barry Melrose talking and he’s bashing our team. It’s something that you take with a grain of salt, but at the same time you get mad at those things. You don’t really want to prove people wrong but you want to go out there and prove yourself right, prove that we have a pretty darn good team.”
The Panthers indeed proved they had a good team, leading the Southeast Division for most of the season and returning to the playoffs for the first time since the spring of 2000.
So how did the Panthers do it?
As is always the case in an 82-game season, success depends on a lot of factors.
The first is talent. The Panthers didn’t just bring in a lot of new players last offseason, they brought in a lot of quality players.
The list includes defensemen Brian Campbell and Ed Jovanovski, goalie Jose Theodore, and forwards Tomas Fleischmann, Tomas Kopecky, Versteeg, Bergenheim and Goc, among others.
Getting Campbell to waive his no-trade clause to go from Chicago to Florida was the biggest transaction — in more ways than one.
On the ice, Campbell is among the best defensemen in the game, which he proved again this season when he earned his fourth All-Star invitation.
Just as importantly, more than one free agent mentioned the arrival of Campbell as playing a significant role in their decision to sign with the Panthers.
The Panthers not only added talent to their roster, they also added veterans and winners — Campbell, Versteeg and Kopecky, plus mid-season addition John Madden, all were members of the 2010 Chicago Blackhawks Stanley Cup winner that Tallon assembled.
The newcomers joined a group of holdovers that included solid two-way center Stephen Weiss, and emerging defensemen Jason Garrison and Dmitry Kulikov.
The Panthers also continued to add pieces throughout the season, picking up veterans Mikael Samuelsson and Marco Sturm from Vancouver in an October trade, and then adding Wojtek Wolski and Jerred Smithson shortly before the trade deadline.
“They brought in some personnel that have been part of winning teams, from Samuelsson, who was around the Detroit organization, to Campbell and Versteeg that have won Stanley Cups,” Buffalo head coach Lindy Ruff said before a mid-March game at the BankAtlantic Center. “Some of it is the maturing of some of their younger guys. It’s a lot of different things. They brought some people that have come from winning environments, which is always good, and their young players now have been around a winning experience for a good part of the year and it’s shown up in their play.”
It wasn’t just Ruff who was impressed with the Panthers throughout the course of the season.
“You’ve got to give them credit,” Jaromir Jagr said after the Panthers beat the Flyers 2-1 at Philadelphia on March 20. “They know how to win.”
Forward Kris Versteeg and Mikael Samuelsson have added offense to the Panthers forward units.
Never was that more evident than during a five-game winning streak in March. It was the Panthers’ longest streak since March of 2008.
More importantly, the streak helped the Panthers stay ahead of the surging Capitals in the Southeast Division.
One of the most impressive aspects of the Panthers’ playoff season was that it was accomplished despite a rash of injuries.
Scottie Upshall, Goc, Bergenheim, Kulikov, Jovanovski, Jack Skille, Versteeg. They all took their turns missing significant action.
Through all of it, the Panthers just kept plugging.
For that, a large dose of credit has to go to Kevin Dineen, who proved just as good a hire as head coach as many players did as free agents.
“A terrific job,” is how Tallon succinctly put it. “With all the new players and all the injuries we’ve accumulated, to stay in the hunt and be in the position we’re in, a fantastic job by all our coaches.”
Dineen said on a few occasions that a major objective heading into the season was for the Panthers to be relevant in March and April.
For some of the players, though, this season shaped up as a great unknown because of all the new faces.
“I don’t really know if anyone had any expectations coming in,” Weiss said. “With all the new guys, we were just going to take it one day, one practice and one game at a time and just try to get better as a group and see where we are.”
For Theodore, the tone was set during training camp.
“As soon as training camp started, we could feel there was something special,” he said. “We saw right away that all the players were all here to change the Panthers’ tradition and we all had the same goal. We could tell from the start of training camp that the players really wanted to make a difference, especially the new players.”
The new players sure made a difference. So did the old players. So did Dineen and his assistants. So did Tallon and Santos.
This was a total team effort, and the reward is playoff hockey.




1 MTL 65 41 18 6 175 146 88
2 NYI 66 42 21 3 211 185 87
3 TBL 66 40 20 6 217 173 86
4 NYR 63 39 17 7 197 155 85
5 DET 62 36 15 11 182 160 83
6 PIT 63 36 18 9 182 158 81
7 WSH 66 35 21 10 194 164 80
8 BOS 63 31 22 10 168 165 72
9 FLA 65 28 23 14 159 185 70
10 PHI 65 28 25 12 173 187 68
11 OTT 62 28 23 11 176 167 67
12 NJD 64 27 27 10 144 165 64
13 TOR 65 26 34 5 175 199 57
14 CBJ 63 26 33 4 163 201 56
15 CAR 62 24 31 7 144 167 55
16 BUF 64 19 40 5 123 215 43


N. Bjugstad 65 22 17 -8 39
J. Huberdeau 62 10 28 2 38
J. Jokinen 64 6 29 0 35
A. Ekblad 65 11 23 7 34
B. Boyes 63 11 21 9 32
J. Jagr 60 12 19 -10 31
J. Hayes 56 17 12 -5 29
B. Campbell 65 3 20 1 23
A. Barkov 54 10 12 -7 22
D. Kulikov 56 3 15 -5 18
R. Luongo 23 16 11 .921 2.37
A. Montoya 5 7 2 .888 3.08 is the official Web site of the Florida Panthers. Florida Panthers and are trademarks of the Florida Panthers Hockey Club, Ltd. NHL, the NHL Shield, the word mark and image of the Stanley Cup and NHL Conference logos are registered trademarks of the National Hockey League. All NHL logos and marks and NHL team logos and marks as well as all other proprietary materials depicted herein are the property of the NHL and the respective NHL teams and may not be reproduced without the prior written consent of NHL Enterprises, L.P. Copyright © 1999-2015 Florida Panthers Hockey Club, Ltd and the National Hockey League. All Rights Reserved.