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Pushing Towards the Playoffs

by Mike Lewis / Florida Panthers

After 57 games in the 2013-14 season, the Florida Panthers owned a 22-28-7 record, with 51 points and were removed from the playoff picture. After 57 games in the 2014-15 season, the Panthers own a 26-19-12 record, with 64 points and are one point outside of a Wild Card playoff spot.

The race for the playoffs will be a tight one down the road, but the Panthers are ready for the challenge. Within striking distance of the Boston Bruins (28-20-9, 65 pts.) for the second Wild Card spot, Florida is in the midst of a five-game road trip that will test them in their quest for the postseason.

Florida started the trip off with a 3-2 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs (Feb. 18) before overcoming a 2-0 deficit to top the Eastern Conference leading Montreal Canadiens 3-2 in the shootout. A two point night (1-1—2) from Tomas Fleischmann fueled the Cats’ offense while Steven Kampfer potted his first goal as a Panther to tie the game 2-2. Dave Bolland sealed the game for Florida in the shootout.

“It’s definitely a huge win for us, for the standings and the morale on this team,” said Kampfer after Florida’s win against Montreal. “Especially going forward, we’re trying to make the playoffs here, any win counts so it was a huge win for us and it was a character win by the guys in the room.”

Starting the trip off on the right foot, Florida’s two-game winning streak leads them into a tough stretch of games. Back-to-back match-ups against the Ottawa Senators and Pittsburgh Penguins await the Panthers this weekend, before the Cats wrap up their road trip against  the Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday (Feb. 24). Following the road trip, the Panthers return home to face the Blackhawks again on Feb. 26. Bolland, a two-time Stanley Cup Champion with the Blackhawks (2010, 2013) has been a leader on and off the ice for the Cats this season and believes in his team’s resilience going forward.

“We have guys that just don’t give up,” Bolland told FOX Sports after Florida’s win over Montreal. “We can tell by the players we have and the depth we have, we just keep going. Turk [Head Coach Gerard Gallant] harps that. Just never give up and keep going.”

Roberto Luongo has been a calming presence between the pipes for Florida this season as the All-Star goaltender continues to give the Panthers a chance to win every night. Facing 70 shots in the shootout this season for Florida and allowing 19 goals against, the veteran netminder is a big reason why Florida is in the hunt for their first playoff appearance since 2011-12, where the Cats recorded 65 points after 57 games (27-19-11).

“We’ve been [coming back] all year,” said Luongo. “We never quit. No matter what the score is we believe in our chances that we can win the game.”

“There’s a lot of work to be done. We don’t want too get ahead of ourselves. We realize we’re in the thick of things which is exciting and fun for our group. It sounds cliché but we really just have to take it one game at a time. We can’t get too high after a big win, but not too low after a loss.

“It’s back to work tomorrow.”

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