After beating Detroit, Panthers’ coach Peter Horachek called the final games before the Olympic break a “seven-game series” in trying to get into the playoff mix.
By Horachek’s theory, Florida is on the verge of elimination.
The Panthers’ bad week continued Saturday night as the Blue Jackets handed Florida its third consecutive lopsided loss with a 4-1 rout at Nationwide Arena.
Florida entered Saturday 10 points back of the final playoff spot in the East. The Panthers have 26 games remaining, so being eliminated mathematically is still a way off.
“This is not what we want,’’ said Brad Boyes, who scored Florida’s lone goal. “We pushed back, had a lot of chances. But they scored and we didn’t. That’s the difference. ... We’re getting to the point of the season where you need results. You need a point, have to find a way.’’
Since beating the host Red Wings last Sunday in a shootout, the Panthers have just been hammered. Columbus followed up blowouts in Boston and Toronto as the Panthers have been outscored 16-6.
Since taking a 2-0 lead on the host Leafs, the Panthers have given up 10 goals while scoring only twice during that span.
That’s not a good recipe for winning.
“Going 1-3 makes it tough, this is a results industry,’’ Horachek said.
The Jackets, looking for their second playoff berth in franchise history, won for the 10th time in their past 13 games and did so by taking advantage of some empty nets.
The Panthers, however, were robbed by goalie Sergei Bobrovsky when they aimed toward the net — and flat-out missed when he was out of position.
Columbus took its lead in the opening period after Tim Thomas (26 saves) came out of the net to play a puck but caught his glove on the lip of the cage and watched the puck slip away. Boone Jenner tapped the puck into the vacated space.
It became 2-0 with 1:58 left in the period when Jenner made a sweet move and backhanded a pass to Ryan Johansen who popped the puck in clean.
“The team needs me to keep us as close as possible,’’ Thomas said. “We’re a little fragile right now. ... From my end, I feel awful.’’
Florida got its goal in a hard-fought second period, one in which the Panthers dictated the pace but couldn’t find the net save for when Boyes sent a shot off Columbus defender David Savard past Bobrovsky.
Columbus all but ended things in the final minutes of the second when Nick Foligno walked in on Thomas and fired a shot at him. Thomas got a chunk of the puck but didn’t stop it as it dribbled past him and into the net.
“I thought our chances were better, but we didn’t capitalize on ours and they did,’’ Horachek said. “We didn’t really get a save [Saturday] and that’s the way it is. Playing catch-up hockey is difficult.’’
Despite playing well, Drew Shore was a victim of the numbers game as he was assigned to AHL San Antonio following Saturday’s morning skate.
With the Florida roster at 23, it needed to make some sort of move to get Aleksander Barkov off the injured list. The only players who could go to San Antonio without clearing waivers first were Shore and second-line center Nick Bjugstad.
Shore flew home with the Panthers and plans to join his Rampage teammates Sunday.• Defenseman Erik Gudbranson ditched his protective cage and returned to the lineup Saturday. Wearing just a traditional visor, Gudbranson played after being scratched in the previous three games.
Gudbranson had surgery to repair a broken orbital bone in December and had been wearing a restrictive full cage since returning on Jan. 6. Dylan Olsen sat in Gudbranson’s place.