It probably wasn’t wise betting against Philadelphia – not in 2018, the year of the Eagles and Villanova.
The Florida Panthers learned that lesson on Saturday as they were eliminated from playoff contention before they even took the ice.
The Panthers, who elevated themselves from 28th in the NHL to – at one point – a team that had a 75-percent probability to reach the playoffs, were mathematically ruled out when the Philadelphia Flyers routed the New York Rangers 5-0 on Saturday afternoon.
Later Saturday night, the Panthers defeated the visiting Buffalo Sabres 4-3. The Panthers will conclude their season at the Boston Bruins on Sunday.
“It’s disappointing,” Panthers center Vincent Trocheck said of how the season is ending, “especially in a year in which we could’ve made it because we played really well in the second half.
“(But) the future is bright. We have a lot of young talent.”
The Panthers’ disappointment began even before the Flyers and Rangers dropped the puck at 3 p.m.
On Saturday morning, the Panthers announced that their best player, center Aleksander Barkov, would miss both of this weekend’s games due to an upper-body injury suffered in Thursday’s win over Boston.
“(It’s) something that’s not a long-term surgery kind of repair,” Florida coach Bob Boughner said on the Panthers’ Twitter page. “It’s just rehab.”
Barkov, 22, had a strong year, making the All-Star Game for the first time and setting his career high with 78 points in 79 games. His 27 goals were one short of the career-best 28 he scored in 2015-2016.
But with just two goals in his final 17 games plus the injury and the playoff miss, it wasn’t the type of finish Barkov wanted.
Besides Barkov, other Panthers who had good years included center Vincent Trocheck, wingers Jonathan Huberdeau and Evgenii Dadonov and defenseman Aaron Ekblad. All four of those players already have career highs in goals: Trocheck (31); Dadonov (27); Huberdeau (27) and Ekblad (16).
In addition, veteran defenseman Keith Yandle has 47 assists, one short of his career best.
The goalies were solid all season, including Roberto Luongo, who on Thursday became just the third goaltender in NHL history to play 1,000 games; James Reimer, who got the win on Saturday; and Harri Sateri, who emerged from the minors to win four straight games from late January to early February.
Luongo, though, when healthy, was the clear No. 1.
“I don’t want to say father figure,” Boughner said when asked about Luongo. “But he’s that guy the team can watch and learn from every day.”
Another point of pride for the Panthers this season was their record of 27-11-3 at the BB&T Center. That’s a new franchise record for most home wins in a season.
“It’s really important to make sure that when a visiting team comes into our building, they know it’s going to be a hard game,” Panthers defenseman Mike Matheson said at Saturday’s morning skate in an interview posted on Twitter. “We’ve established our game at home.”
Overall, the Panthers have already improved by 13 points over last season’s results.
Better yet for the Panthers, this is a team with a great deal of youth, and the lineup got even younger on Saturdaywhen 2016 first-round pick Henrik Borgstrom, 20, made his home debut, playing center on Florida’s third line.
That youth should mitigate Saturday’s Panthers disappointment to some extent.
“Our first half, if we could have had a better record, we wouldn’t be in this situation,” Boughner said. “But there were a lot of great things that happened this year.”