The Panthers may technically be in the hunt for a playoff spot and are just a few points back of being part of Stanley Cup chase next month.
It just doesn’t feel like it right now.
On Tuesday, it sure didn’t look like it.
Florida’s downward spiral continued in ugly fashion Tuesday as the New York Rangers ran out to a three-goal lead and handed the Panthers yet another home loss — this one 5-2 at BB&T Center.
The Panthers, who for big portions of the night didn’t look like they wanted to be on the ice, have lost six of their past seven home games.
Florida is a meager 1-5-1 (getting three of an available 14 points in the standings) since getting South Florida excited about their playoff chances with a 5-0 Western trip.
Feels like last year, not last month.
“It seems like we’ve been here a few times in the last couple of weeks,” said team captain Derek MacKenzie afterward. “It falls on myself; lets start there. We have the horses in the room. We just have to be better and it starts with me.”
On Tuesday, Florida’s defense broke down time and again as the Rangers dominated a two-goal opening period which, if it weren’t for terrific play by goalie James Reimer, should have been much worse.
The Rangers, by the way, played extra hockey in Tampa the night before, beating the Lightning 1-0 in overtime.
Reimer, mostly alone in front of the Ranger shooting gallery, was mercifully pulled by interim head coach Tom Rowe after New York made it 4-1 in the second.
Repeating that the Panthers win and lose as a team, Reimer refused to blame his teammates for what was a long — yet short — night in the cage.
“It’s a tough loss and you want to be better, be better for your team,” said Reimer, who made 15 saves before Reto Berra came in.
“It was what it was. ... We’re a team; I make mistakes, my teammates make mistakes. My job is to bail them out but they got a couple by me.”
Defenseman Steven Kampfer, traded from the Panthers in November, helped make it 1-0 when Chris Kreider knocked his long shot down and past Reimer midway through the first. Tanner Glass, a former Panther as well, made it 2-0.
Down 3-0, Florida finally showed some life when Thomas Vanek scored his first since Florida acquired him in a deal with Detroit last week.
That life was vacuumed away moments later when Nick Holden scored.
Florida made it 4-2 on an Aaron Ekblad goal late in the third, one rendered moot on an empty net goal in the final minutes.
Rowe, who admitted he had been riding his team hard the past few days, brought a much softer tone to his postgame press conference and even praised his team’s effort.
When asked if he felt his team quit on him, he said “No, they definitely didn’t quit. They’re frustrated. That’s what it is. They are prideful guys.”
When asked what he felt watching this game from behind the bench, Rowe said “I felt bad for the guys, to be honest with you. They were working and did every single thing we asked them to do. ... The effort was there. You could see it on the bench. They’re frustrated. We’ve just got to stay with it.”
The Panthers will not be getting a day off Wednesday as they return for a special afternoon practice session at their arena as part of a season ticket holder event.
“The guys were trying,” Rowe said. “We worked on a bunch of things, talked about it. It’s not like they’re doing it on purpose.
“We’re still a young team, trying to learn how to win and playing against real good competition.”