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Sooner Than Expected

by Staff Writer / Florida Panthers
Panthers left wing David Booth skates against Atlanta Thrashers defenseman Zach Bogosian during the first period of an NHL hockey game at Philips Arena, Thursday, April 9, 2009, in Atlanta. Booth scored the game-winning goal as the Panthers went on to win 3-2. (AP Photo/Gregory Smith)
By Dave Joseph for floridapanthers.com


Earlier in the week, Panthers coach Peter DeBoer said he wasn’t going to think about missed opportunities from earlier in the season.

Looking back, DeBoer said, “is maybe something you reflect on in the summer.”

Unfortunately for the Panthers, the summer will come sooner than expected. After having their playoff hopes dashed Thursday evening, the Panthers will play their final game of the 2008-09 season Saturday evening at BankAtlantic Center when they play host to the Washington Capitals.

Despite winning 40 or more games for only the third time in franchise history – despite not losing back-to-back games in regulation since Jan. 1 – the Panthers were eliminated from post-season contention Thursday when the Rangers beat the Flyers and the Canadiens squeezed a point out of an overtime loss to the Bruins.

Come Sunday, the official close of the regular season, the Panthers may miss the playoffs by a single point.

“You look back for one point throughout the year – that’s hard to take,” said David Booth, who scored his fifth, game-winning goal and 29th of the season Thursday in the Panthers 3-2 win over Atlanta.

In what will be remembered as one of the Panthers most exciting seasons, they couldn’t get to the post-season. The Panthers go into Saturday’s game having gone 7-7-3 since March 5. It’s a record that simply wasn’t good enough down the stretch.

“We lost some pretty key games down the stretch,” said defenseman Jay Bouwmeester. “When teams were struggling, we didn’t take advantage of it. We have no one to blame but ourselves.”

After being eliminated Thursday evening, DeBoer said he was proud of his team and leading scorer Stephen Weiss said the season was a “step in the right direction.”

“But it’s still not good enough,” he added.

The Panthers will take whatever satisfaction they can Saturday evening when the Capitals come to town. Led by Alex Ovechkin, the Capitals are the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference and will be looking to set a franchise-record 51 wins in a season.

The Panthers go into Saturday’s game ranked 24th on the power play and ninth in penalty killing.

The Panthers did not practice Friday, nor did the Capitals.

FINAL GAME HAPPENINGS

Two big events for the Panthers final game.

BankAtlantic Center will open its doors at 10 a.m., and allow fans to watch the Panthers’ morning skate at approximately 10:30, and the Capitals’ skate at approximately 11:30. Pantherland will also be open beginning at 10 a.m.

And during Saturday’s game, fans will be able to bid on players jerseys on the plaza level during the first and second periods. The highest bidder for each jersey will be escorted to the ice where the player will present his jersey immediately after the game.

NOTES

The Panthers enter the final game with a 24-14-6 mark since Jan. 1…Stephen Weiss will finish the season with career highs in points and assists. Going into Saturday’s game, Weiss has 45 assists and 59 points. David Booth will also top his career highs in goals, assists and points. He enters Saturday’s contest with 29 goals and 26 assists for 55 points…Goalie Craig Anderson will set career highs in games (31) and wins (15)…Goalie Tomas Vokoun extended his streak of consecutive seasons with at least 25 wins to six…
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