The Panthers’ 1993 expansion brothers from another coast, Anaheim, come to the Broward suburbs Tuesday night. Which probably means a point for the Panthers.
What they need is two.
The Panthers’ propensity for getting something from games against the cream of the NHL’s conferences keeps them on the outskirts of the playoff race, as opposed to being fried, died and laid to the side. Only twice in their 11 games against each conference’s top four teams, a 5-4 home loss to Detroit and a 4-2 loss at St. Louis, did the Panthers fail to get at least the overtime/shootout loser consolation point.
Those 11 games include giving Anaheim, second in the Western Conference overall going into Monday night’s games, a 6-2 beating on Orange County ice in November. Also in those 11 games: last week’s win against the Islanders, but also Sunday’s 3-2 shootout loss to Nashville after the Panthers entered the third period up 2-0.
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In a vacuum, getting a point off of Nashville should count as a “yay!” Just as, Tuesday night, if the Panthers take one off Anaheim, a restrained fist pump normally would be appropriate.
But when you’re six points out of the final playoff spot, not getting two points in games you dominate is what players remember on early April drives to offseason homes.
“The last three games, we’ve played really good hockey games, we played three good teams [Islanders, Los Angeles, Nashville] and we got five of the six points,” Panthers coach Gerard Gallant said. “Little disappointed to lose [Sunday] the way we did at the end, but when we’re playing good hockey, usually things take care of themselves.”
And emphasizing how well the Panthers played against Nashville, they beat one of the NHL’s best five-on-five teams. They lost the win by allowing two goals to the Predators’ power play, arguably the weakest part of Nashville’s game.
Not helping the Panthers penalty kill is the absence of defenseman Willie Mitchell. The captain, out with the opaque “upper-body injury,” rode the exercise bike the past two days, according to Gallant. Expect Mitchell to miss Tuesday’s game against Anaheim. The Panthers’ next two games, against Minnesota Present (the Wild) and Minnesota Past (Dallas), come as a Thursday-Friday back-to-back, not usually the situation coaches like for players returning from injury.