With seven points and two teams sitting between the Panthers and the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, the Feb. 28 trade deadline looms large for a team that general manager Dale Tallon is looking to rebuild in the image of his former team, the Chicago Blackhawks.
For coach Peter DeBoer and his players, the situation couldn't be any clearer.
"We're in playoff mode right now," DeBoer said Wednesday. "We have to start winning two out of every three games to get in."
Considering the Panthers haven't even been able to win one of every two games to this point, that's a pretty tall order.
Tallon may very well be thinking the same thing as the League's buyers begin burning up the phone lines to lay some groundwork for the deadline, and DeBoer says that reality needs to give his players a push in the right direction.
"It's not a distraction, it's a motivator," he said. "We all know that at the trade deadline, it's going to go one of two ways. It's our job as coaches and players to make it a difficult decision for Dale. So it's a motivator, because these are desperate times for the Florida Panthers."
The most obvious candidates on the Panthers to potentially move at the trade deadline are impending unrestricted free agents Cory Stillman, Tomas Vokoun and the injured Bryan McCabe, though the latter two have no movement clauses.
But another name that seems to pop up in the conversation is lifetime Panther and this season's leading scorer Stephen Weiss, who has a no movement clause of his own.
Drafted No. 4 in 2001, Weiss has played all 530 of his career games in a Panthers uniform, yet has never once tasted what it's like to play in the playoffs.
"There are points where it really wears on you," Weiss told NHL.com. "But at the back of my mind, I just want to try to play hard and when it does finally work here, it'll feel that much better because you stuck it out. That's not to say there haven't been tough times, but this is where I got drafted and this is where I want to be."
Still, just hearing his name mentioned in trade rumors, whether they are founded or not, gives Weiss the idea he must be doing something right.
"We all know that at the trade deadline, it's going to go one of two ways. It's our job as coaches and players to make it a difficult decision for Dale. So it's a motivator, because these are desperate times for the Florida Panthers."
-- Panthers coach Peter DeBoer
If the Panthers want to avoid a situation where Tallon will have to start selling off assets, it needs to start with a victory in Montreal. Tomas Vokoun will get the call in goal one night after Scott Clemmensen lost in a 4-3 shootout in Toronto.
Canadiens coach Jacques Martin counters with former Panther Alex Auld, who won 3-2 in overtime in Florida on New Year's Eve and who has never lost in regulation in seven career starts against the Panthers (3-0-4).