Sports Outside the Beltway

Are the 2007-08 Florida Panthers over the hump?

They won last night, marking for the fist time this season that the team has a winning record.

Thursday night’s Panthers-Hurricanes game might as well have been played on a roller coaster, it had so many ups and downs.

In the end, the final up went to Florida, which registered a 5-4 victory at the BankAtlantic Center, taking the lead for good on Brett McLean’s goal midway through the third period.

Back home after winning three of four games on the road and facing the Southeast Division leaders, the Panthers had nothing but opportunity in front of them. A win would cut into their five-point division deficit and set an energizing tone for a year-end schedule that features four of five games at the BankAtlantic Center.

It looked bleak when Carolina took a 3-1 lead after the first period, but the Panthers rallied for their third consecutive victory. They now trail the Hurricanes by just three points.

I have felt from Opening Night, that this Panther team is capable of taking the Southeast Division. That the team is right on Carolina’s back at the moment says something(Other than the SE division being mediocre) about how Florida has come this far. They’ve been plagued by injuries this year, particularly to defensemen(Three are out at this time, and its not known when any will be back) but all through this the team has pulled themselves over .500. Yes I still worry about the lack of punch the team has, their tendency to sit on a lead, and whether they give up when they fall behind. As to the last, maybe we’ve seen the end of it. For Florida was down 3-1 a little over 16 minutes into the game. The Panthers then stormed back.

The Eastern Conference playoff picture stands like this. Teams in italics are Southeast division teams

1- Ottawa 22-8-3 47 pts
2- Boston 18-12-4 40
T3- Montreal 17-12-5 39
T3- Carolina 18-15-3
T3- New Jersey 18-13-3 39
6 NY Rangers 17-14-3 37
T7 Florida 17-16-2 36
T7 Pittsburgh 17-15-2
T9 with 35 pts Buffalo and Philadelphia(32 games played each) and Toronto(35 games)
T12 with 33 pts Atlanta and Tampa Bay in 34 and 35 games respectively.

You can look at it one of two ways. Florida is four pts out of 2nd place in the conference or that the cats are just a game or two from being in 10th place because of the fewer games played by Buffalo and Philadelphia. As I see the conference, Florida can play as well as anyone with the exception of Ottawa, and arguably Carolina and New Jersey. The cats, who are notoriously bad as a road team, are 8-9-1. When you factor in injuries and the Panthers road record, this team could finish as high as 2nd in the conference, but more likely 4th or 5th. I think my preseason prediction of Florida making the playoffs for the first time since 2000, is looking better and better.

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