The Panthers haven’t beaten the Boston Bruins since March 15, 2012 — a run of nine consecutive losses.
With the Bruins coming to town Saturday night for the first of three meetings over the next few weeks, Florida needs to turn things around in a hurry.
“We don’t have a choice, do we?” said defenseman Erik Gudbranson, one of 10 Florida players who have yet to beat the Bruins. “We know what’s at stake. The past doesn’t matter. We play our game, and we’ll be fine.”
Boston flew south Friday after Thursday’s 6-4 loss to the Senators in Ottawa.
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Although Ottawa is three points ahead in the standings, its win did the Panthers a favor, as Florida picked up two points on Boston after beating Detroit on Thursday.
The Panthers are five points back of Boston for the final playoff spot with 11 games left; Ottawa is two points behind the Bruins.
“It’s another game where we need to find two points and stay in the race,” Panthers coach Gerard Gallant said. “We have 11 left and are five back. It doesn’t matter who we’re playing; you have to play your best games. I like how we’ve played our last three, and if we keep that up we’ll be fine.”
Florida would have to not only catch both but surpass them to make the playoffs. The Panthers own no tiebreakers against either team.
Former Boston forward Shawn Thornton compared the Panthers to being down 3-1 in a series and Saturday being Game 5.
For Florida to catch the Bruins, it might take winning all three head-to-head games, which won’t be easy.
The Panthers have lost 15 of their past 17 games against the Bruins and haven’t won in Boston since 2011.
“We have three big ones against these guys,” said Thornton, who spent seven seasons with the Bruins and was a key part of their 2011 Stanley Cup championship team.
“This is what you play for; it’s an exciting time of year. I’ve been on the other side, where the games don’t matter. I’d rather be here. We have to win our games. No one is going to do us any favors.”
The Panthers have been talking about their games being looked at as their postseason for weeks, but with the Bruins and Senators coming up in the next 10 days, these might as well be playoff games.
After Saturday, the Panthers’ final road trip starts Tuesday in Tampa, with stops in Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa and, yes, Boston.
For Florida’s final five-game homestand to matter, it needs a mess of wins.
“If we want to make the playoffs, we have to beat Boston all three games,” Jaromir Jagr said. “It’s a Game 7 for us [Saturday]; everybody has to realize it.”
Said goalie Roberto Luongo: “We don’t want to look at the big picture. We just want to look ahead. … We know that our next one, our season is pretty much on the line.”
Thornton was a healthy scratch Thursday but should be back against his old teammates Saturday.
Thornton’s next game will be his 600th in the NHL, making him one of only three players to play that many games at both the NHL and AHL level.
Thornton, 37, left the minors behind for good in 2006 after being called up by Anaheim and winning his first Stanley Cup with the Ducks in 2007.
“It’s pretty cool, although I would obviously rather have 1,200 up here,” said Thornton, who played in 605 AHL games over 10 seasons with St. John’s, Norfolk and Portland.
“I never would have thought I would get 600 games in the NHL after spending nine years down there.”
The other two players to have accomplished the feat are Jim Morrison and Dave Creighton — both established NHL players who ended their careers in the AHL.
Thornton has played in 568 NHL games since 2006, not including 101 postseason games with Anaheim and Boston.
The Panthers have played one seven-game playoff series in that span.
Saturday: Bruins at Panthers
Saturday: Bruins at Panthers
When, where: 7 p.m., BB&T Center, Sunrise.
TV, radio: FSFL; WQAM (560 AM).
Series: Boston leads 42-32-6.
Noteworthy: The Bruins won the first meeting on Nov.4 when Brad Marchand scored 3:27 into overtime for a 2-1 victory. Jussi Jokinen gave Florida a 1-0 lead on a second-period goal.