ST. PAUL --
Perhaps it is because the Florida Panthers
are based in Miami, but one of the NHL's best teams has flown under the radar all season.
That's fine with forward Stephen Weiss
, who is just happy the Panthers are on the radar at all.
Weiss has been a full-timer with Florida since 2005-06 and has played more games in a Panthers sweater than anyone in franchise history. He's never played in a playoff game as a NHL player.
That could change if the Panthers continue to take care of business. With six games remaining, Florida leads Washington by five points in the Southeast Division and is on the verge of winning its first division title in history.
"It's what it's all about, being in the mix this time of year. Haven't done it too many times in years past," Weiss said. "Playing in big hockey games, it's a lot of fun."
Because the Panthers don't play in a traditional hockey market, little has been said about Florida lately. It is a team with a lot of known, and unknown, talent, but more has probably been written about their opponent Thursday, the Wild, and their historic collapse.
That's fine with Weiss though. He said he enjoys avoiding the headlines.
"We're not worried about what other people think," Weiss said. "We knew it was going to be like that all year. We're content flying under the radar and just going about our business and winning hockey games.
"Hopefully we can continue to do that over the last six games and get into the playoffs. Maybe then, we'll get a little bit of respect."
Panthers coach Kevin Dineen
says it would mean a lot to the franchise to get back to the playoffs, especially for a guy like Weiss.
"He takes a lot of pride in wearing the Panther uniform," Dineen said. "He's a large part of our identity. Certainly, he's suffered some games this time of year that have not been relevant. I think he's enjoying this process right now and I think his teammates are enjoying it for him as well."
Weiss credited his teammates, coaching staff and front office for making this season's run possible, saying it would be big for the South Florida hockey community as well.
"It would mean a lot. Not having success over the years, to bring it together that quickly, if we can manage to get it done, it would be huge," Weiss said.
In the lineup tonight will be former Wild forward John Madden
. The veteran didn't play Tuesday at Montreal, but will replace Mikael Samuelsson
Madden scored 12 goals and 13 assists as a member of the Wild last season. He has two goals in 25 games with Florida this year.