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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.




1 p - NYR 82 53 22 7 248 187 113
2 y - MTL 82 50 22 10 214 184 110
3 x - TBL 82 50 24 8 259 206 108
4 x - WSH 82 45 26 11 237 199 101
5 x - NYI 82 47 28 7 245 224 101
6 x - DET 82 43 25 14 231 211 100
7 x - OTT 82 43 26 13 232 208 99
8 x - PIT 82 43 27 12 217 204 98
9 BOS 82 41 27 14 209 201 96
10 FLA 82 38 29 15 198 213 91
11 CBJ 82 42 35 5 227 248 89
12 PHI 82 33 31 18 212 223 84
13 NJD 82 32 36 14 176 209 78
14 CAR 82 30 41 11 183 219 71
15 TOR 82 30 44 8 206 257 68
16 BUF 82 23 51 8 153 269 54


J. Huberdeau 79 15 39 10 54
J. Jokinen 81 8 36 -2 44
N. Bjugstad 72 24 19 -7 43
A. Ekblad 81 12 27 12 39
B. Boyes 78 14 24 11 38
A. Barkov 71 16 20 -4 36
J. Hayes 72 19 16 -4 35
B. Campbell 82 3 24 4 27
B. Pirri 49 22 2 6 24
D. Bolland 53 6 17 4 23
R. Luongo 28 19 12 .921 2.35
A. Montoya 6 7 2 .892 3.01

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