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The Anatomy Of A Playoff Season

Friday, 04.6.2012 / 3:14 PM ET / News
By Alain Poupart  - FloridaPanthers.com
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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 p - WSH 82 56 18 8 252 193 120
2 x - PIT 82 48 26 8 245 203 104
3 y - FLA 82 47 26 9 239 203 103
4 x - NYR 82 46 27 9 236 217 101
5 x - NYI 82 45 27 10 232 216 100
6 x - TBL 82 46 31 5 227 201 97
7 x - PHI 82 41 27 14 214 218 96
8 x - DET 82 41 30 11 211 224 93
9 BOS 82 42 31 9 240 230 93
10 CAR 82 35 31 16 198 226 86
11 OTT 82 38 35 9 236 247 85
12 NJD 82 38 36 8 184 208 84
13 MTL 82 38 38 6 221 236 82
14 BUF 82 35 36 11 201 222 81
15 CBJ 82 34 40 8 219 252 76
16 TOR 82 29 42 11 198 246 69


J. Jagr 79 27 39 23 66
J. Jokinen 81 18 42 25 60
A. Barkov 66 28 31 18 59
J. Huberdeau 76 20 39 17 59
V. Trocheck 76 25 28 15 53
R. Smith 82 25 25 19 50
A. Ekblad 78 15 21 18 36
N. Bjugstad 67 15 19 -8 34
B. Campbell 82 6 25 31 31
B. Pirri 52 11 13 -4 24
R. Luongo 35 19 6 .922 2.35
A. Montoya 12 7 3 .919 2.18

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