Even though they are seven points out of a playoff spot, the Panthers feel they are a postseason contender as the unofficial second half of the season kicks off Tuesday.
Florida opens its post-All Star break with a tough matchup straight out of the chute as Detroit visits BB&T Center.
Although the Panthers have won both of their matchups against the Red Wings, Detroit is currently in second place in the Atlantic Division and just one point behind Eastern Conference leading Tampa Bay.
“The league is so balanced these days, you see teams come and go out of playoff spots,’’ goalie Roberto Luongo said from the All-Star Game this past weekend.
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“You just have to get hot. We were collecting points every night and were still barely in. When you lose, you lose ground pretty fast. We can’t look at the big picture right now because you don’t want to be overwhelmed by the standings. We just have to take care of our business, and the standings will take care of themselves.’’
The Panthers had hoped to ride a wave of momentum into the All-Star break but lost their final four games.
Florida then watched Boston pick up three of an available four points to put the Panthers seven points back.
And even though the Panthers have played four fewer games than the Bruins, a number of national media members don’t see Florida catching Boston — or anyone else holding a playoff spot for that matter.
“I love their team this year, but things have been tough on them lately,’’ said E.J. Hradek of NHL Network.
“I think the eight playoff teams are already set, it’s just a matter of things being shuffled around. Now, last year, Toronto fell off a cliff. If someone else does that this year, Florida could be able to get back into it. I like this team though, I like their big picture in Florida. They’ve stayed the course, and they look good.’’
The schedule should play into Florida’s favor a little bit — it finishes the season with five games at home — although the competition in the coming weeks is going to be rough.
Even though it looks like a break when Columbus visits Thursday, Florida is winless in two games against the Blue Jackets this season.
After finishing off two games at home this week, Florida plays three games in four days on a tough New York trip that has the Panthers facing the red-hot Rangers and Islanders on back-to-back nights.
Despite the tough schedule, Pierre LeBrun of ESPN and Canada’s TSN says Florida can claw its way back into things.
“They are the only ones in the Eastern Conference not in a playoff spot that have a chance,’’ LeBrun said. “Toronto is toast, Ottawa isn’t getting back into it. Florida has the best shot, although I don’t think they should be aiming for Boston.
“The Bruins will be top three in the division soon I think. But maybe Detroit or Washington starts to slip. That would help the Panthers.’’
Tuesday: Red Wings at Panthers
When/where: 7:30 p.m.; BB&T Center, Sunrise.
TV/radio: FSFL; WQAM 560.
Series: Detroit leads 16-8-3.
Noteworthy: The Red Wings won five in a row coming into the All-Star break and sit just one point behind Tampa Bay in the Atlantic Division. Florida has won both meetings against the Wings this year — both coming in Detroit.