We grew a lot this year.
It hurts to fall one point short of the playoffs, but I think if you told us we'd end the season with 96 points at the beginning of the year, we all would have taken it. We can take pride in how we finished and appreciate that we did something special. Now, we just need to keep growing on it.
We took some big steps forward after the All-Star break and proved what kind of team we can be. The team you saw go 25-8-2 to close out the season, that's the real Panthers. From the first game of the season until the last, the belief just kept on growing.
The culture improved and so did our play as a result. Everyone in this locker room just wants to get better. I think everyone now knows what to expect heading into next season and it's going to be up to us to execute and keep building off what we've already started.
At the end, we knew we had to be perfect over our final five games to even have a chance of making the playoffs. And even though we didn't get the help we needed and missed out on our goal, I still think it was huge that we won those games and finished strong.
Those were huge wins against some good teams. We were playing for a lot and so were they, especially Boston. Every minute was filled with pressure, but we didn't buckle. I was very proud of how we all played. We all fought really hard and no one ever gave up. The more experience you have in situations like that, the better our team will be when it makes the playoffs.
I think that perfect finish will be our fuel heading into the summer. We just missed the playoffs, but we were also one of the best teams in the league for half the season. A year ago, I think we had a lot of question marks in our head at the end of the season, but not anymore.
We've got something to build towards. It's right there in front of us and there's no doubt that everyone is on the same page now. We know what to expect from ourselves and as a team. The confidence going into the summer is high and that type of culture is fun to come back to.
As for myself, I think I took a step forward mentally this season. I learned a lot about the ups and downs of the game and fighting through some adversity. At the start of the season, I dealt with a long stretch of healthy scratches for the first time in my career, but I learned from it.
That's all part of what I expect now and what the team expects from all of us. Everyone knows where they need to be, and I know where I need to be in terms of my game. I know what they expect of me next season and I know what I expect of myself. Expectations are very high.
I got stronger and played better as the season went on. I got my confidence back and I think you could see that on the ice. Right up until the end, I thought I played pretty well. I was just focused on playing solid defense and then went from there. I'm moving forward.
I'm really excited for this offseason. I think last season I started training around the end of May, but this summer I'll start training as soon as I get home in a couple weeks. I'm eager to get back to the gym and work on my weaknesses. I want to get more agile so that I can do things a little bit quicker.
I'm going to be on the ice more, too. There's always things to improve. If I just focus on that, everything else will come. Whether it's a new contract or playing time, all of that stuff comes from being prepared. If I do my best, I know the rest of that stuff will take care of itself.
As for the fans that read my blog all season long - thank you, seriously.
I really appreciate everyone that tuned into these articles and our games. I'm happy we got to share that success with you, especially towards the end of the season. I hope you all know how much the whole team is excited to get things going in 2018-19. We're a confident group.
I think you're all going to be pretty happy with us next season.