Panthers forward Radek Dvorak joins a list of six others on injured reserve, after breaking two fingers while diving to block a shot on Saturday against Tampa Bay. (AP Photo/Hans Deryk)
By Dave Joseph for floridapanthers.com
The Panthers wild ride to reach the playoffs took another twist Monday as the team left Fort Lauderdale to continue a five-game road trip.
Riding a two-game winning streak and heading to Toronto for Tuesday’s game against the Maple Leafs, the Panthers received news that forward Radek Dvorak will be out four-to-six weeks after suffering two broken fingers in Saturday’s victory in Tampa.
Dvorak joins the team’s growing MASH list, which includes Jozef Stumpel, Ville Peltonen, Rostislav Olesz, Mike Van Ryn, Noah Welch and Garth Murray.
Despite having seven players on injured reserve, including four of their top nine forwards, the Panthers head to Canada only three points behind Carolina for the lead in the Southeast Division.
“I thought we’d be getting some people back, but there’s nothing we can do about it,” said GM and coach Jacques Martin after Monday morning’s practice at IncredibleIce. “We’ve got to find ways to win as a team.”
Come from behind victories against Vancouver and Tampa have been costly with Dvorak going down Saturday and Stumpel separating his shoulder Friday against Vancouver.
The good news is that Peltonen practiced with the team Monday and will accompany the Panthers on the road trip.
“(Peltonen) won’t be playing (in Toronto),” Martin said. The earliest we’re looking at is the weekend. He’s started to practice, he’s feeling better. Hopefully, he’ll be ready by the weekend depending on what clearance he gets from the doctor.”
Although the Panthers are without a number of starters, Martin and his players hit the road having gotten four points in their last two games. They also leave town with a 6-4 record in their last 10 road games (13-13-1 overall).
Beating Vancouver and Tampa allowed the Panthers to have a “great feeling,” according to Richard Zednik, who broke out of a scoring slump Saturday with the game-winner against the Lightning.
“We battled from behind and got two win,” Zednik said. “But we have four big games coming up. We have to keep rolling, got to play the way we’ve been playing and we have to play that way for 60 minutes.”
Martin said the key for the Panthers is to remember “we’re still chasing.”
“The nice thing about it is we’re three points out of first place in our division,” he said. “We’ve got to win games. This road trip is huge for us. Other teams keep winning. We have Toronto, Ottawa, Boston and Buffalo and we need to get points.”
While the Panthers only three points away from the top in the Southeast, they’re six points from the eighth and final playoff spot currently occupied by the Bruins.
Martin was asked if the Panthers best and only path to the playoffs might be winning the Southeast.
“It will be interesting to see,” he said. “The Rangers struggled for a while, now they’ve won three in a row (and are seventh in the East). That’s why it’s going to be interesting to see how it all develops. Do you have to win your division? Right now it’s our best opportunity because that’s the closest way to get into the playoffs. There’s probably less teams to get over to get there. But we’re going against Carolina, Washington and Atlanta, so we’re going to have to battle and take one game at a time.”