Florida Panthers

Florida Panthers playoff run has stalled but don’t blame Thomas Vanek

Florida Panthers left wing Thomas Vanek (26) is congratulated by teammates after scoring against the New York Rangers in the second period of an NHL hockey game, Tuesday, March 7, 2017, in Sunrise, Fla. The Rangers won 5-2.
Florida Panthers left wing Thomas Vanek (26) is congratulated by teammates after scoring against the New York Rangers in the second period of an NHL hockey game, Tuesday, March 7, 2017, in Sunrise, Fla. The Rangers won 5-2. AP

The Florida Panthers made a nice deal at the trade deadline to help with their run to the playoffs.

Although that postseason push has stalled, don’t blame Thomas Vanek for it.

Florida goes into Friday’s game against the Minnesota Wild with losses in six of its past seven games including all three since acquiring Vanek from the Detroit Red Wings in exchange for a third round draft pick and depth defenseman Dylan McIlrath.

Vanek, who spent the past two seasons with the Wild before having the final year (this one) of his contract bought out, scored his first goal with the Panthers in Florida’s eventual 5-2 loss to the Rangers on Tuesday.

“He’s a really good player and we knew what we were getting when we traded for him,” interim head coach Tom Rowe said Friday morning.

“He has obviously brought the offense and has a real confidence about himself in the locker room, really calm on the bench. That rubs off on everyone.”

In his first game last Thursday, after flying across North America to make it from Vancouver, Vanek had five shots on goal and numerous scoring chances in Florida’s 2-1 shootout loss at Philadelphia.

On Saturday, he set up Nick Bjugstad a number of times in a 2-1 loss to visiting Dallas.

“I need to put them in this time,” Bjugstad said. “The puck isn’t going in for us right now, and that happens. But you don’t want it happening at this point of the season. You want to help the team out. We’ll bear down on it.”

Tuesday, playing on a new line, Vanek took three shots with one finding its way past Henrik Lundqvist to bring Florida within 3-1 in the second period.

The Rangers scored their fourth goal minutes later and that was that.

“I tihnk things are going OK but it would have been nice to get a win and probably deserved the win in two of three of them,” said Vanek, who will be back with Bjugstad and Jonathan Marchessault on Friday.

“That’s the way it goes something. Overall, this team plays a good brand of hockey, creates plenty of chances. We just need to tighten up in our defensive zone. It’s amazing how many chances we do get when we’re playing right.”

▪ The Panthers haven’t been helping themselves in the playoff race and now aren’t getting much help from others.

Florida went into the trade deadline a point out of the playoffs last week; going into Friday’s games, that deficit has grown to six.

Jaromir Jagr said the Panthers are currently in a bad position and don’t need to be reminded about it.

The Panthers have 16 games remaining after Friday.

“We can’t say anything, we just need to go out and do it,” Jagr said. “We know the situation, know we probably have to win every game to make the playoffs, have to beat teams like Toronto and Boston. That’s for sure.”

Said Rowe: “We just have to worry about ourselves, there’s still a lot of hockey left.”

▪ Roberto Luongo was back on the ice prior to Florida’s morning skate working with goalie coach Robb Tallas without taking shots.

Luongo has been out since leaving last Thursday’s game in Philadelphia with an undisclosed lower body injury said to be related to the hip surgery he had last summer.

▪ Friday: Wild at Panthers

When/where: 7:30 p.m.; BB&T Center, Sunrise.

TV/radio: FSFL; WQAM 560, WMEN 640, WMYM 990.

Series: Minnesota leads 14-5-1.

Scouting report: The Wild leads the Western Conference under new coach Bruce Boudreau yet has lost three of four after losing to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday night. Minnesota comes into Friday second in the league in goals scored and fourth in goals against.

▪ Saturday: Panthers at Lightning

When/where: 7 p.m.; Amalie Arena, Tampa.

TV/radio: FSFL; WQAM 560, WMEN 640, WMYM 990.

Series: Florida leads 64-51-10.

Scouting report: The Lightning has won three of its past five and despite dealing off some assets at the trade deadline are closer to a playoff spot than its cross-state rival going into Friday. Florida, which has won two of three against Tampa Bay this season, came into its game against the Wild two points back of the Lightning.

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