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5 To Watch: The Home Stretch

Five things to w

Friday, 04.4.2014 / 1:30 PM ET / News
By "Hockey Pat" McGrath  - FloridaPanthers.com
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5 To Watch: The Home Stretch

Believe it or not, there are only five games remaining in the Florida Panthers regular season. With the final homestand about to get underway, here are five things to watch for:

1. The Scoring Race

As the season winds down, the battle for the Panthers scoring title is coming down to the wire. There is currently a three way tie atop the leaderboard as Scottie Upshall, Nick Bjugstad and Brian Campbell are all tied with 35 points apiece. Brad Boyes is just one point off that pace and at this juncture it is anyone’s ballgame.

Boyes looks to have the goal title locked down with a comfortable cushion between his 20 goals and the trio of potential usurpers in Bergenheim (15), Bjugstad (14) and Upshall (14). One of these guys could catch fire the rest of the way so we will hold off on awarding the Iron Throne to Boyes for now.

Here is the latest from the Panthers scoring race:

2. Nick Bjugstad

One of the biggest questions with young players is, how will they handle the workload that comes with a full NHL season? This question is amplified when talking about players coming from the college ranks where the seasons rarely extend past the forty game mark.

In his first full season with the Panthers, Bjugstad has quelled any fears about how he will handle the NHL grind. Bjugstad has been one of the Panthers most consistent players this season and with 71 games already under his belt, he has shown no signs of slowing down.

Besides being tied for the team lead, Bjugstad’s 35 points (14-21-35) ranks in the top ten among NHL rookies in goals, assists and points. Not only has Bjugstad handled the increased workload with ease, but he has done so while playing big minutes and drawing the toughest defensive assignments on a nightly basis.

And there is this as well:

3. Home Cookin’

The Panthers close out the season with one of their longest homestands of the season. The Cats have been better at home than on the road this season. They have a 14-17-5 record so far at BB&T Center, compared to their 13-25-3 record away from South Florida. An added perk during this home stretch is that three of the Panthers five opponents will be playing the Cats on the second half of a back-to-back.

The Calgary Flames, Dallas Stars and Columbus Blue Jackets will all be taking on the Panthers after having faced the Tampa Bay Lightning the previous night. Hopefully the Panthers sunshine state brethren will do the Cats a solid and run these teams ragged.

4. Playing Spoiler

Four of the Panthers five games will come against teams that are in the thick of their respective wild card races. The Cats will face the Stars, Flyers, Toronto Maple Leafs and Blue Jackets and each of these teams have playoff fates that are very much undecided.

In the Eastern Conference, the Detroit Red Wings and Blue Jackets occupy the two wild card spots with 86 and 85 points respectively. The Philadelphia Flyers, with 87 points, are constantly looking over their shoulder while the Maples Leafs, with 84 points, are just one point out of the big dance.

Out West, the Stars hold the last wild card spot with 85 points but the Phoenix Coyotes have 85 as well and you can bet that the race for the last playoff spot will come down to the wire.

This homestand will be a great measuring stick for the Cats. These remaining games will be against playoff caliber teams leaving it all on the line. With a couple of big wins during the homestand, the Panthers have to opportunity to burst a few bubbles, dash a few playoff dreams and turn a few heads in the process.

5. Career High Watch

With so many young players on the roster, there were a lot of Panthers that set new career highs. Bjugstad (14-21-35), Jimmy Hayes (10-5-15), Quinton Howden (4-1-5), Brandon Pirri (11-9-20), Vincent Trocheck (3-2-5) and Dylan Olsen (3-9-12) all have the opportunity to add to career highs in goals, assists and points over the final five games. Here are the other career milestones reached this season and some others that are still within reach:

Sean Bergenheim: 15 goals, 11 assists and 26 points this season. He’s nearing career marks in goals (17), assists (15) and points (29).

Scottie Upshall: Already achieved career highs in assists (21) and points (35) and with 14 goals is within range of his career goal mark (18).

Jesse Winchester: Set career high in goals (9). With 17 points this season he has a very good chance of breaking previous career high in points (18).

Dmitry Kulikov: With eight goals this season, Kuli topped his previous career high of six goals.

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

 
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