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Rapid Fire: Playoffs In The Panthers Future?

by Bill Lindsay / Florida Panthers
Welcome to Rapid Fire. Panthers broadcasters Steve Goldstein and Bill Lindsay will hit five different thoughts on a daily rotating basis. It's up to them as far as what topics they want to talk about as teams, and more specifically the Panthers, make a push towards the playoffs and the Stanley Cup.

We start Rapid Fire off with Mr Lindsay. Scoring one of the most memorable goals in franchise history, Lindsay knows a lot about regular-season and post-season success for a team. He discusses the five reasons to believe that the playoffs are in the Panthers' future.

Opponent Record
vs BOS (3/15) 1-1-1
vs BUF (3/17) 1-1-1
@ PHI (3/20) 0-2-1
@ CAR (3/21) 4-0-0
vs EDM (3/23) 0-0-0
vs NYI (3/25) 3-0-0
@ MON (3/27) 3-0-0
@ MIN (3/29) 0-0-1
@ CLB (3/30) 0-0-0
@ DET (4/1) 0-0-0
vs WPG (4/3) 3-1-1
@ WSH (4/5) 2-3-0
vs CAR (4/7) 4-0-0
The Schedule: The Panthers have a great schedule with 10 of the last 13 games against teams currently below them in the standings. Nine of those teams are not currently in a playoff position. Florida is 21-8-5 so far this season against those teams left on the schedule (including 4-0-0 against Carolina (twice more), 3-0-0 against NY Islanders and Montreal and 3-1-1 aganst Winnipeg). Schedule wise, it looks great for the Panthers but they still have to get the job done.

2. Hot Netminder: They have the best goalie in the Southeast Division and one of the hottest goalies in the NHL. Jose Theodore is playing his best hockey of the year right now. He has allowed two goals or less in 10 of his last 13 games played. He is a veteran netminder who looks poised to carry the Panthers to the playoffs.

3. Health: The Panthers might be the healthiest they have been since the start of the season. The return of Kris Versteeg and Dmitry Kulikov will be key. Coach Kevin Dineen will then have a full compliment of players at his disposal. With Kulikov back, the Panthers will have their Top 6 defensemen back, which, during the first half of the season, was one of the best in the NHL. The Panthers have depth at all positions when healthy. Players have to play well to stay in the lineup which means you should get the best they have to offer.

4. Team tough: This group sticks up for each other. They protect Theodore and no one is getting close to the net after the initial shot. Erik Gudbranson is nasty and mean. Krys Barch can play and is a true heavyweight. He throws with both hands and I love him. Shawn Matthias showed last game that everyone is in this for each other as he stuck up for Keaton Ellerby after he got run from behind. This is a "team". They truly fight tooth and nail for each other. In general, everyone seems to have each others' backs, which is awesome.

5. Veteran leadership: The Panthers have players now who have been through the wars and come out on top. John Madden has three rings, Tomas Kopecky has two rings while Vertsteeg, Brian Campbell and Mikael Samuelsson all have rings as well. Ed Jovanovski has been to the finals and has well over 1,000 games in the league. Dineen has seen it all over his years as a player and earned his coaching stripes in the AHL. The team plays like he did; tough and hard with the utmost determination. All these guys should provide the leadership the Panthers desperately need in crunch time.

There's still a ways to go but I believe this is the year. Go Panthers.
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