By Dave Joseph for floridapanthers.com
The message remains the same. But time is definitely a factor.
The Panthers will try to rebound tonight from two inexcusable road losses when they play host to the Bruins at BankAtlantic Center. And for the Panthers, there’s simply no road for error or inexcusable performances beginning tonight in their home rink.
The Panthers begin this evening five points out of first in the Southeast Division and six points from the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference. With only 20 games remaining, the Panthers need to make a push to the playoffs now.
“We’re still right there,” said Olli Jokinen after Thursday’s morning skate. “There’s 40 points available. Anything can happen.”
Anything but what happened Saturday in Carolina and Tuesday in Pittsburgh, when the Panthers blew two, two-goal leads in the third period. Considering they gave away four points in the past five days, there’s simply no more points to give away.
“I thought we played extremely well for 55 minutes (in Pittsburgh),” said GM and coach Jacques Martin. “Only the last five minutes did they get five scoring chances and two goals. Carolina was a game we battled hard and we let slip away after scoring four goals. That should be good enough to win a hockey game. So it’s a matter of desperation and urgency away from the puck. It’s not just our team.
True, the Rangers blew a 5-0 lead Tuesday evening and lost 6-5 to Montreal. And Tampa Bay let a 3-1 lead slip away Wednesday evening to the Sabres. But the Panthers need to focus on themselves and playing a consistent game, something they still can’t seem to do after 62 games.
“If you look at our record it’s 5-4-1 in February,” Martin added. “We’ve got five more games left this month, three are going to be at home and two on the road. The fact is we control our own destiny with the number of games we have left in our division. If we can win this last segment of games (in February), we’d be over .500. If we get back to .500 we can stay in the hunt. The month of March, our schedule is in our favor as far as number of games. They’re all spread out, and we got a real good home stand.”
The Bruins, seventh-place in the Eastern Conference, are 5-4-1 overall in their last 10 games and 6-3-1 in their last 10 road games. The Bruins are ranked eighth in the power play but 26th in the penalty kill.
“We know they don’t give you much,” Martin said. “Specialty teams and goaltending could be the difference.”
Gregory Campbell, who missed Tuesday’s game with the flue, will be back in the lineup with linemates Rob Globke and Rostislav Olesz
. Kamil Kreps will fill in for Stephen Weiss
alongside Nathan Horton and David Booth
. The fourth line will be David Brine, Tanner Glass and Steve Montador.
WELCH ON ICE
Defenseman Noah Welch was back practicing (no contact) Thursday morning with the Panthers for the first time since separating his shoulder in Montreal back in October. Martin said Welch could be cleared for contact next week and could be back in the lineup by the first of March. “My shot feels good,” Welch said. “My wrist shot is definitely a little weak. The shoulder gets fatigued, but not sore, which is a good sign.” Welch is hoping to be in the lineup March 4 when the Panthers play in his hometown of Boston or March 6 against his former team, the Penguins…
ZEDNIK RETURNS TO BANKATLANTIC
Richard Zednik was to make his first appearance at BankAtlantic since suffering his injury Feb. 10 in Buffalo. Martin on having Zednik back in the building (for his afternoon press conference): “What he’s gone through, it’s very difficult. We’re very fortunate he’s able to fully recover. It’s unfortunate he’s not playing because he was playing his best hockey of the year. But the most important thing is he’s healthy and will recover.”…Jokinen on Zednik: “Officially, we can turn the page and move on.”