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Cats Have Nine Lives

by Staff Writer / Florida Panthers

John Kreiser/ columnist

The Florida Panthers aren't ready to start playing for next year just yet. They're too busy hanging in this season's playoff race.

In early February, it looked like the Panthers were about ready to start playing for next season. The had dug themselves a huge hole in the Eastern Conference playoff race -- even though they were less than 10 points out of a playoff berth, there were so many teams ahead of them that ending a postseason drought that saw the Panthers last make the playoffs in 2000 seem impossible.

But five weeks later, the Panthers are still hanging around. Though they're 13th in the Eastern Conference standings after Thursday night's 5-3 home loss to Buffalo, they're still just seven points behind the Carolina Hurricanes and New York Islanders, who are tied for the last two playoff berths. The Islanders come to the BankAtlantic Center Saturday night, and the Panthers play Carolina twice in the final week of the season.

"I'm sure a lot of people have written us off, but in here, we've never thought we're out of it," forward Nathan Horton told reporters this week. "Obviously, it took us longer than we wanted to get things going, but we feel good about things and now we're making our push."

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