• PRINT
  • RSS

Division Title, Playoff Run Make Panthers Hopeful

Friday, 04.27.2012 / 3:42 PM ET / News
Associated Press
X
Share with your Friends


Division Title, Playoff Run Make Panthers Hopeful

SUNRISE, Fla. (AP) - The clock on the wall was frozen at 16:13, what the scoreboard showed when the postseason ended and the offseason started. A few players peeled off their equipment very slowly, maybe from exhaustion, maybe because they simply weren't ready to leave. Barely anyone spoke in a voice above a whisper.

Predictably, the Florida dressing room was a depressing place after the Panthers' Game 7 loss to New Jersey ousted them from the Stanley Cup playoffs.

What was said in that room, however, presented a much different message.

"It stings. It stings to lose at home," Panthers center Stephen Weiss said. "But we've got some bright years ahead. We've got some kids coming up that are pretty darn good players. So it'll be a fun summer training, and we'll try to do it all over again next year."

That mantra - "wait `til next year" - had been an end-of-season theme around the Panthers for more than a decade. Only this time, it comes with actual proof that better days are coming.

After a season that saw the franchise enjoy its first division title, first playoff trip in 12 years and first postseason game victory in 15 years, there was much for the Panthers to be happy with, even in the early hours of Friday morning as the realization set in that Florida's ride had just come to a sudden end in double overtime against the Devils, who moved on to an Eastern Conference semifinal matchup with Philadelphia.

"There was sincerity in that team that you can't try for," said Florida coach Kevin Dineen, who helped engineer all those Panthers breakthroughs in his first season as an NHL coach. "That comes with guys who come to the rink. They play together. And that doesn't just happen overnight. I think that starts in September. And that gives us a good future to build on."

Of the 19 players who got on the ice in the final game for Florida this season, only five were with the Panthers a year ago, yet the group jelled quickly under Dineen. Three of the team's top four scorers this season were newcomers, Weiss - a 10-year Panthers veteran - being the only exception there. The goaltender was a new face as well, and even before he showered away the sweat from Game 7, Jose Theodore was eager for what might come next.

"For sure," Theodore said. "A lot of people didn't think we were going to make the playoffs. Even less thought we'd win the division. The guys showed a lot of character. It's really looking good for the future."

It's part of what the Panthers call "the blueprint" put together by general manager Dale Tallon.

Tallon assembled a team that won a Stanley Cup in Chicago before he joined the Panthers two years ago, and he's clearly moved Florida closer to hockey's ultimate goal. Before the playoffs even started, Tallon was ready to declare the season a success, and few could argue.

"A successful season is right, a winning season," Tallon said. "Regardless if we hadn't gone in the playoffs, we went up 22 points over last year. And you look at my record, we want to get better every year and we exceeded expectations this year. But it doesn't surprise me knowing the character of these players that we brought in. They really care."

The roster will see some changes, though an overhaul - like the one that brought Theodore, a Lady Byng finalist in Brian Campbell, the team's eventual leading scorer in Tomas Fleischmann, a former Florida fan favorite in Ed Jovanovski and Stanley Cup champions such as Kris Versteeg, Tomas Kopecky and John Madden - to the club for this run won't be happening.

For the first time in a while, it doesn't seem needed.

"You know, it's not an easy place to play," Tallon said. "There's a lot of distractions, as everybody has said, but it's a beautiful place to play. And I'm excited for the guys that made the commitment to come here in July and the guys that have been here in the past that have gone through tough times have really been able to weather the storm and get themselves back on top."

It was nearly 1 a.m. Friday when Versteeg walked a few steps over to Weiss' locker, the two shaking hands and sharing a quiet moment. "Great season," they said to one another, not really sure what to do next.

"Obviously, we're happy about what we did," Versteeg said. "It's a tough way to lose, but I'm just proud that I got to play with these guys this year. We had a great season. We tried to play our butts off every night and never give up every night and we never did. You lay it all out on the line and sometimes it doesn't happen."

No one needs to tell Weiss that. Until this season, it had never happened for him. Nine seasons, nine early trips home, and only in Year 10 did the Florida center finally get his first taste of playoff hockey.

He expects the next one to be better.

"It's been worth the wait," Weiss said.

---

Follow Tim Reynolds on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ByTimReynolds

SCHEDULE

HOME
AWAY
PROMOTIONAL

STANDINGS

EASTERN CONFERENCE
  TEAM GP W L OT GF GA PTS
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

STATS

2015-2016 REGULAR SEASON
SKATERS: GP G A +/- Pts
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
 
GOALIES: W L OT Sv% GAA
R. Luongo 35 19 6 .922 2.35
A. Montoya 12 7 3 .919 2.18

 
FloridaPanthers.com is the official Web site of the Florida Panthers. Florida Panthers and floridapanthers.com 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 and NHL Draft name and logo are 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 © 1999-2016 Florida Panthers Hockey Club, Ltd and the National Hockey League. All Rights Reserved.