|The Panthers and Red Wings last faced off in Detroit in November of 2009. Florida registered their third win in the Motor City in franchise history with a 2-1 overtime victory.
It's hard to think that in one week the 2011-12 season will come to a close.
One week. Four games. A combination of five points (Panthers gain compared to opponents losses) to clinch a coveted playoff spot and end a playoff drought of 12 years.
Florida hasn't made it easy on itself on this current four game road trip that ends Sunday in Detroit. After starting it off with a come-from-behind shootout victory over the Canadiens, the Panthers were within 30 seconds of taking home two points in Minnesota but instead settled for just one as the Wild completed their own comeback with an overtime victory. Then Friday night, against the league's worst team, Florida came out flat and the Blue Jackets jumped on them for a 4-1 victory.
The Panthers took the day off Saturday as they flew to Detroit and prepared for one of the West's best. Playing their fourth game in six nights, the team hopes to conserve energy in preparation for the final push.
"It's not like we're going to pass this thing over," said head coach Kevin Dineen following the most recent loss. "We know that we made mistakes and we made costly mistakes, self-inflicted mistakes.
"It's how you react to them. We need to learn, get our energy back, get a little trust in each other and I think that will take care of the tired part."
With the doldrums of the middle of the season long gone and just a week left on the docket, the Panthers still are in a good position. Florida is four points up on both Washington and Buffalo with each of the three teams having four games left (both the Capitals and Sabres play Saturday night).
"We put ourselves in a good situation," said defenseman Brian Campbell
. "We have four games left here to really pour it on and everybody knows what's at stake."
The relevance of the games in competing for that playoff spot should be all that the team needs to push them through the final week.
"It's the NHL. This is where everybody dreams to be is to be in a playoff race, chasing that spot and have a good run at the Stanley Cup," said defenseman Erik Gudbranson
. "As a young kid, you still feel that dream. It's something else."
"It's enjoyable to go out and play in games like this," said Dineen. "This is what we are looking forward to is playing games that matter and that are, as I've said all year, relevant this time of year...It's still going to be throttle down to the end of the season."
All of that starts against Detroit on Sunday. The Wings come in with the West's fifth best record but haven't had the greatest of March's. Detroit is 4-8-2 in the month and has dropped their last two games, 4-2 in Columbus and 4-1 at home to Nashville.
"Go out there work hard," said Campbell of the Panthers final four games. "Work hard, work smart. Things will come."
"When we're playing our game, we're as good as any team in this league," said Gudbranson. "We just need to get to that point and play at that level for the next four games and get as many points as we can."
"We know we have the right players that can go on and compete with any team in the league," said Dineen. "We'll be well tested on Sunday."