Florida Panthers

The Panthers are chasing 3 teams for the final playoff spot. Here’s where they stand

Florida Panthers MacKenzie Weegar (52) skates around the net after scoring their first goal in the first period as they play the Carolina Hurricanes April 2, 2018.
Florida Panthers MacKenzie Weegar (52) skates around the net after scoring their first goal in the first period as they play the Carolina Hurricanes April 2, 2018. ctrainor@miamiherald.com

This wasn’t the “Miracle on Ice,” the “Miracle Mets” winning the World Series or Buster Douglas knocking out Mike Tyson.

But the Florida Panthers do need a miracle of sorts to make the playoffs, and Monday’s 3-2 win against the visiting Carolina Hurricanes was a positive step in that direction, especially when you consider that two of the three goals by the home team came from the sticks of defensemen Alex Petrovic and MacKenzie Weegar.

This was just Petrovic’s second goal of the season. For Weegar it was just the second goal of his career.

“We needed to win at all costs,” goalie Roberto Luongo said after the Panthers broke a three-game losing streak.

Even so, the Panthers have 88 points with four games remaining in the regular season. The three teams they are chasing — and catching any one of them would do — all have three games left: the Columbus Blue Jackets and Philadelphia Flyers (94 points each) and the New Jersey Devils (93).

Here are five Panthers takeaways:

▪ 1: Wild race for the wild card: The final available spot for an Eastern Conference playoff berth is not looking good for the Panthers, who could be eliminated as soon as Tuesday if they lose in regulation and the Devils win.

A couple of weeks ago, the Panthers were 78 percent likely to make the playoffs, according to hockey reference.com’s computer program. But that likelihood had fallen to 6.7 percent before Monday’s win, and it’s still a major long-shot.

Of the four games left on Florida’s schedule, three are brutally tough: home on Tuesday for the Nashville Predators, who have the best record in hockey; home on Thursday against the Boston Bruins, who have the second-best record; home on Saturday against the awful Buffalo Sabres and then at the Bruins on Sunday.

The most vulnerable team the Panthers are chasing, the Devils, close at home against the New York Rangers and Toronto Maple Leafs and then at the Washington Capitals.

A Panthers sweep of their four games and a 1-2-0 record by the Devils would get the job done for Florida.

“We have to win out,” Panthers coach Bob Boughner said on Monday, establishing the bottom line.

▪ 2: What went wrong for the Panthers? The main problem was their start. They were 28th in the NHL in points as of Jan. 30.

The Panthers have been one of the best teams in the league since then, but they had little margin for error. Since Jan. 30, the Panthers lost three games to non-playoff teams (Senators twice and the Oilers).

Had the Panthers won those three games, we would be having a different conversation right now.

Making matters worse for the Panthers was the fact that the teams they were pursuing have all played exceptionally well down the stretch.

Columbus had a 10-game win streak last month. New Jersey won four out of six games last month on a difficult road trip and then went 4-0-1 after returning home. And the Flyers have picked up points in eight straight games (5-0-3).

▪ 3: For the defense: Since the All-Star break, the Panthers lead the NHL in points by defensemen.

Usually, that production is coming from Aaron Ekblad, who has 16 goals; or Keith Yandle, who is second on the team with 47 assists; or Mike Matheson (10 goals).

But, instead, it was Petrovic (five career goals) and Weegar getting jiggy with it, boosting the Panthers.

“It’s been a while since I scored,” Weegar said.

He’s right, of course. It was his first goal since October 20. For Petrovic, it was his first goal since Valentine’s Day.

▪ 4: Captain crunch: Petrovic’s game-winning goal with 7:58 left in the third period was set up by winger Colton Sceviour, who usually plays on the third or even fourth line.

But, with the score tied 2-2 and the Panthers desperate for a goal, Boughner moved Sceviour to the top line, playing him with Aleksander Barkov and Evgenii Dadonov. (Nick Bjugstad went to the fourth line after his turnover led to that second Carolina goal.)

Sceviour came through, delivering a crunching forecheck and getting the puck to Barkov, who had the primary assist.

“(Boughner) said, ‘Get in on the forecheck and try to create some stuff that way,” Sceviour said. “(Barkov and Dadonov) are highly skilled guys. I knew if I could get in there and disrupt (Carolina) and get the puck to one of them, good things would happen.”

▪ 5: Borgstrom benched: Rookie Henrik Borgstrom, who was playing for the University of Denver as recently as March 25, was a healthy scratch on Monday.

The Panthers have big plans for their Finnish center but perhaps not right now as they cling to playoff possibilities.

Borgstrom, Florida’s first-round pick in 2016, made his NHL debut on March 29 and played again two nights later. So far, he has no points and is a minus-one while playing 39 shifts.

It hardly seems worth burning one year of Borgstrom’s three-season entry deal. But perhaps this promise of at least some playing time was the only way Borgstrom would sign. The Panthers didn’t want to lose the talented 20-year-old back to the draft, and this is the result.

Should the Panthers get eliminated this week, expect to see Borgstrom play quite a bit. But for Monday at least, Boughner went with more proven personnel.

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