The Florida Panthers, who beat the Boston Bruins 3-2 on Thursday night at the BB&T Center, are suddenly huge New York Rangers fans.
The Rangers, who are out of postseason contention, have to beat the host Philadelphia Flyers in regulation Saturday afternoon to give the Florida Panthers any chance at making the playoffs.
If the Rangers accomplish that feat, the Panthers — who have won three games in a row — would then be in position to make the playoffs by beating the visiting Buffalo Sabres on Saturday night and then traveling to Boston to defeat the Bruins in Sunday’s rematch.
However, if the Flyers lose Saturday by exactly two goals and the Panthers win both games via shootout, both teams will play a tiebreaker game — essentially a playoff to make the playoffs — on Tuesday to determine who gets the Eastern Conference’s final wild card spot. In this rare scenario, the Panthers and Flyers will be tied with 96 points and tied in all three of the NHL’s tiebreakers: wins in regulation or overtime (39), head-to-head (split series 1-1, because the NHL does not count the first matchup at a site where teams played twice) and goal differential (+1).
“It would be nice to control our own fate,” Panthers coach Bob Boughner said. “But we don’t have that luxury. Let’s just hope we’re in a situation Saturday when the puck drops that we’re in position to make the playoffs.”
Here are your five takeaways:
▪ 1: The Barky Blues: With 6:51 left in the third period, center Aleksander Barkov — skating along the boards — took a hard check from Boston’s fourth-line center, Colby Cave.
It looked like Barkov, who earlier in the night scored his 100th career goal, sustained an upper-body injury, possibly to his rib cage, shoulder or elbow.
“I know the doctors are checking him,” Boughner said of Barkov, who scored his 27th goal of the season. “I don’t have any [information] right now, but it didn’t look great when he was coming off the ice.
“Talking to the ref, [it looked like Barkov] tried to turn away to shield the puck, and, at the same time, [Cave] was coming in on him. I don’t really want to make a comment on [the hit]. Everybody’s playing hard at this time of year, finishing hits.
“Hopefully, [Barkov] is all right.”
▪ 2: McCann’s the man: When Barkov went down, Boughner moved third-line center Jared McCann to the top spot.
Boughner wanted defense primarily from McCann, who is not a big goal scorer. But McCann gave him that and more with his ninth goal of the season, which became the game winner with 5:37 left in the third period.
“I was excited,” McCann said. “To be put out there in that situation shows the confidence the coach has in me.
“I was ready to go. I look for those opportunities every day.”
▪ 3: Who needs rest? Panthers goalie Roberto Luongo, who played his 1,000th game just one day after his 39th birthday.
But there’s no need for a rocking chair. Luongo won his third game in four days and has allowed just five goals during that span.
“It’s special to see ‘Lu’ do what he did on his 1,000th game,” Boughner said of Luongo, who made 26 saves. “I know the organization is planning a great tribute to him at some point.
“[Luongo’s performance] meant a lot to the guys. They talked about it in the room. They said let’s win this one for Lu.”
Luongo is the third NHL goalie to reach 1,000 games. He joins Hall of Famers Martin Brodeur (1,266) and Patrick Roy (1,029).
“He’s been our backbone all season, winning us a lot of games,” McCann said. “We wanted to get this one for him.”
▪ 4: Vengeance for Vatrano? Massachusetts native Frank Vatrano was acquired from the Bruins on Feb. 22 — just before the trade deadline in exchange for a third-round draft pick.
On Thursday, Vatrano played his 14th game with the Panthers, scoring his fourth goal during that span.
That he scored that goal against his hometown Bruins and his former teammates was fitting for Vatrano, who started on the third line with McCann and Nick Bjugstad.
It was Bjugstad who combined with Vatrano to strip Zdeno Chara of the puck behind the Boston goal. Vatrano then spun for a wrap-around goal that got by veteran goalie Tuukka Rask.
And it was yet another example of how feisty Vatrano is on the ice. Vatrano, 24, beat Chara, a former Norris Trophy winner, and Rask, a former Vezina Trophy winner, on the same play.
▪ 5: Good to be home: The Panthers tied their 1999-2000 team for the most home wins in franchise history.
The Panthers (26-11-3 at home) can break the record on Saturday night if they beat the Sabres, who have the worst record in the NHL.
By the way, the Panthers are 3-0 against the Sabres this season, beating them 4-1 twice and also 4-2. The Flyers are 2-1 against the Rangers this season, including two in a row since February.
While the Panthers were playing Boston on Thursday, Boughner was getting updates from members of his organization on the teams they were chasing in the standings — the New Jersey Devils, Columbus Blue Jackets and the Flyers.
The Devils and Jackets clinched playoff berths, leaving only the Flyers to battle Florida’s new favorite team on Saturday, the Rangers.
“I keep talking about taking care of our own business,” Boughner said. “But at some point, we need a loss [from the Flyers].”