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McKenzie: Watching out for the Panthers

by Staff Writer / Florida Panthers

Bob McKenzie for

People always ask me if I have a favorite team that I cheer for.

The answer is no, as the fan in me died a long time ago.

But I do cheer for good stories, so I'll admit that, I'm rooting for the Florida Panthers to beat the odds and make the playoffs.

It's not so much that the Panthers are on a roll (and boy, are they on a roll).

But you have to consider their six straight wins. Dating back to a 6-2 victory over Ottawa the day before the trade deadline, the Panthers have won eight of nine games.

They've had overtime wins over Carolina and Tampa Bay, shootout victories over the Capitals, Lightning and Bruins and those wins over Washington and Boston came on the road, where the Panthers have been terrible this season.

Going into Tuesday night's action, they sit in 10th place, six points behind the Montreal Canadiens and New Jersey Devils, with the Atlanta Thrashers nestled in between.

What makes this story appealing is not just that the Panthers are hot.

It's that the organization took the high road at the trade deadline and dismissed the notion that a team with long odds of not making the playoffs should offload assets for future considerations.

The Panthers stepped up and signed Olli Jokinen rather than trade him. And they did the same with Chris Gratton.

And as head coach Jacques Martin pointed out the week before the deadline, with more than a quarter of the season still to play, why would they throw in the towel?

The Panthers have given their fans a reason to believe, a reason to come to the rink. And if the 18,000 plus that were there for the shootout win over the Rangers last Friday is any indication, that's a good sign for the future of the franchise.

Making the playoffs won't be easy for Florida, but it will definitely be interesting.

If they can do well in road games this week in Pittsburgh and Carolina, six of their last nine are at home.

They've got three games left with Tampa Bay and a pair with Atlanta. If Montreal or New Jersey stumble and Florida continues to stay hot, they have a chance.

They deserve something not only for their effort, but their approach.

It's a great story and here's hoping they can fashion a happy ending.

For, I'm Bob McKenzie.

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