Courtesy: Shutterstock – Image by Ben Ezra
It wasn’t long ago that the Florida Panthers were clawing their way through the league’s trenches to find the perfect formula for a playoff-contending team.
Come 2021, and South Florida’s hockey team may have found the recipe that has eluded them for so long—playoff hockey.
With a 7-4 road win yesterday evening against the Nashville Predators at Bridgestone Arena, the Florida Panthers have successfully stamped themselves a one-way ticket to the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
“This is something we’ve been waiting a long time for, especially since I’ve been here,” said team veteran Frank Vatrono. “We’ve been close many times. It feels good, really good. Guys are happy. We’re excited.”
Some players know the pain associated with coming so close but still being so far away from playoff hockey, and for that reason, this season has been extra special.
“You could just tell in training camp,” winger Jonathan Huberdeau said when asked about the team’s impressive season. “We were having fun and ready to go. We didn’t know what was going to happen in the season, but right from the get-go, we started playing well and playing the right way. That’s our team and our identity. We were trying to find the identity of our team, and we found it this year.”
When the Cats take the ice this postseason, it will mark the team’s seventh appearance in the playoffs since beginning play back in 1993, with their last appearance coming in the Canadian playoff bubble last year.
Florida rallied in a back-and-forth affair against the Predators late in the game to secure the playoff spot thanks to a barrage of shots on goal that lead to offensive opportunities and goals.
The Panthers have five games remaining on their regular-season schedule and are entrenched in a battle for the division lead against the Carolina Hurricanes and last year’s Stanley Cup champions and intrastate rival Tampa Bay Lightning.
Led by a young core of solid franchise players, including the likes of Jonathan Huberdeau, Aleksander Barkov, Aaron Ekblad, and more, the Panthers are looking to remain in the playoff conversation for years to come.
Coming into last night’s game against the Predators, the Florida Panthers knew their time was now. The team played with desperation after starting goalie Sergei Bobrovsky allowed 4 goals before the third period began. Head coach Joel Quenneville had seen enough in the first two periods before tapping rookie stud Spencer Knight to get the team back into a fighting position in the third period.
The rookie played a phenomenal third period and allowed zero goals on nine shots in the final 20 minutes of the game.
“Solid, composed,” the head coach said of Knight, who only has one career start under his belt. “Kind of comparable to his first start, the way he handles the puck coming out of his net. He sees plays, makes plays, and shows complete composure.”
The Florida Panthers (32-14-5) will look to make their mark in the playoffs next month and are focused on getting out of the first round for the first time since the team lost in the cup finals in 1996.
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William is a South Florida native with professional experience writing at the collegiate and national news outlet level. He loves fishing, playing soccer and watching sports in his spare time and is a fan of all South Florida teams.