The Florida Panthers have certainly been playing well enough to be competitive in a postseason series, but they still have some ground to make up to get into position to compete in one.
Trying to inch closer to playoff position in the Eastern Conference, the Panthers look to extend their longest winning streak of the season to seven games when they host the Atlanta Thrashers on Sunday.
|The Florida Panthers have rode a six-game winning streak to get within just four points of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)
Florida (34-31-8) has a chance to win seven straight for the first time since March 17-29, 2006. A 3-2 victory over the red-hot New York Rangers on Friday extended the Panthers' run, which has helped pull them within four points of eighth-place Philadelphia in the East.
Florida is looking to make the playoffs for the first time in eight years.
"I think our best games are still ahead and we keep getting better," Panthers center Olli Jokinen said. "We're a confident group right now, but the bottom line is we can't get too high."
Jokinen scored the tiebreaking power-play goal 7:12 into the third period versus the Rangers. It was his first goal in nine games.
"I'm not going to lie to you, of course it's nice to score," he said. "But the bottom line is we've been winning games and I think every line has been able to chip in and play pretty good hockey. But it's always nice to score."
Florida scored 12 goals in its previous three games, but it could use a hot streak from Jokinen, who leads the team with 31 goals and 67 points. Jokinen has five assists in his last six games against Atlanta (31-34-8), but has not found the back of the net in that span.
But the Panthers may not need much scoring if they continue to get outstanding goaltending and defense. They have allowed two goals or less in every game during the winning streak.
Tomas Vokoun has started the last three games for Florida, allowing two goals in each of those contests. He is 4-4-1 with a 2.29 goals-against average in nine career games against the Thrashers.
Vokoun has started Florida's last three games against Atlanta, helping the Panthers win all of them. Florida has won three straight in this series for the first time in its history.
The Panthers beat the Thrashers 3-2 at BankAtlantic Center on March 8 in the teams' last meeting. It was the second of four straight home wins for Florida, which hasn't won five straight at home in a single season since November 1995.
Atlanta, meanwhile, has lost eight straight on the road, three of which were after regulation. The Thrashers have scored two goals or less in regulation in seven of those contests.
On Friday night, Atlanta continued its road skid with a 4-1 loss to Washington, missing a chance to win consecutive games in regulation for the first time since Dec. 18-20.
The Thrashers struggled on offense after scoring six goals in a win over Calgary a day earlier. They were outshot 37-12 by the Capitals.
Five of the lowest shot totals in Atlanta history have been this season. The Thrashers' low for shots in a game is 10, set in a 4-1 loss to the New York Islanders on Feb. 16.
Atlanta may again be without one of its top scorers as Todd White continues to nurse a shoulder injury. The veteran center, who has 14 goals and 37 points, has missed six straight games.