By Dave Joseph for floridapanthers.com
Five points out of the playoff race with five games remaining, the Panthers will get back to work tonight at BankAtlantic Center when they play host to the Thrashers.
For the Panthers, it’s another big game and, more importantly, an opportunity to bounce back from an uneven effort in Tuesday’s loss in Tampa.
“We have to be prepared to battle and play better than we did last game,” said GM and coach Jacques Martin, who was clearly not happy with the effort with some of his players Tuesday against the Lightning.
Tied with Buffalo for the 10th spot in the Eastern Conference and five points from Boston in the eighth and final playoff spot, the Panthers must win their five remaining games and then hope teams in front of the them in the Eastern Conference lose.
Martin made it clear that the Panthers need to show up, and not only for themselves.
“You owe yourself to be the best every night,” Martin said. “You owe it to your organization, you it owe to your teammates, you owe it to the fans. It’s your responsibility to compete hard.”
One of those players who needs to make a statement tonight is Olli Jokinen, who was a minus-2 and took the blame for Tuesday’s loss. Jokinen repeated Wednesday he has to be better.
“I look back, in the last 19 games he hasn’t scored an even-strength goal and he’s a minus,” said Martin after Thursday morning’s practice. “He has to be better. He knows that. If you want to win, you’re best players have to be your best. It’s a team game, but you need your best players to be their best. When you get down to this time of the season, it’s crucial. You have to have your best effort.”
Ville Peltonen, who broke his toe last week, skated for the first time Thursday and could be back in the lineup when the Panthers play their final home game of the season Saturday against the Capitals.
Martin was out-of-town Wednesday recruiting college players who have become free agents. “Some players playing college, who didn’t get drafted, are free agents and right now we’re pursuing some of those players,” Martin said. “We feel some of those individuals have assets that can help this organization. So sometimes it means making a trip to meet a player and his parents. Sometimes it means bringing in those prospects to see our team play.”