Florida Panthers

With seven games left, first-place Panthers not overlooking anyone

The Panthers’ Vincent Trocheck celebrates his goal against the Lightning with Jussi Jokinen during Florida’s victory on Saturday night. Trocheck has 25 goals this season.
The Panthers’ Vincent Trocheck celebrates his goal against the Lightning with Jussi Jokinen during Florida’s victory on Saturday night. Trocheck has 25 goals this season. AP

The Panthers have seven games left in a regular season with a chance at history.

Although the focus isn’t on setting a franchise high for both points and victories, winning only the second division title is not only in reach but also a realistic goal.

Florida’s next seven opponents — well, five because it plays Montreal and Toronto twice — are all out of the playoff hunt.

The Panthers, which retook the top spot in the Atlantic Division with Saturday’s 5-2 win over the host Lightning, have the easiest remaining schedule of any team in the Eastern Conference.

Now at 93 points, the Panthers not only should hit the 100-point mark for the first time but also blow right past it.

“We know the most important thing is to get into the playoffs,” Jiri Hudler said. “We’re in first place and staying there is going to be hard. But we want to go into the playoffs on a high note, want to be playing well. We have to be ready for playoff hockey, keep this going and get better every game. We can’t look back and we can’t look too far ahead.”

The big challenge for the Panthers moving forward in these final two weeks heading into the postseason isn’t necessarily their opponent but themselves.

Although Florida’s next five opponents are out of the playoff hunt, they are trying to spoil the postseason trajectory of their opponents.

“They’re all playing over-.500 over their past 10 games,” coach Gerard Gallant said. “Those teams are playing well, their guys are playing for jobs. We’re nowhere yet. We want to finish as high as we can, and those two points every night will be important.”

The Panthers are a veteran-laden group that knows overlooking an opponent at any time of the year is dangerous. Last year, the Panthers fell out of the playoff race late yet kept messing things up for the teams they faced.

“Even though we have a lot of young guys, they’re smart guys,’’ Jaromir Jagr said. “They have a lot of experience and remember how we were fighting until the end last year. We know how tough it was to lose then.”

Said Roberto Luongo: “There are no easy games in this league no matter the position you’re in. We have played a lot of these teams, and they’ve given us a tough time. We need to keep collecting points. We haven’t clinched anything. We want to win our division, get home ice. But we can’t look too far ahead.”

Losing a few of their remaining games probably won’t keep the Panthers out of the playoffs but could mess up their seeding and possibly keep them from hanging another banner — there aren’t many right now — from BB&T Center rafters.

“We know we can’t take anyone for granted, every game is going to be a tough one,” general manager Dale Tallon said. “We had some tough ones here and now it’s time to get rested and ready for Tuesday. We got four big points in Boston and Tampa and now we can’t waste them. We have to be ready Tuesday, have to be focused. We have a good group here and they understand that.”

▪ Aaron Ekblad is two goals shy of tying the franchise record for goals by a defenseman — set during the 2011-12 playoff season by current Tampa Bay blueliner Jason Garrison.

▪ When Toronto comes to Sunrise on Tuesday, it will have played three games in four night.

The Maple Leafs played host to Boston on Saturday and will play in Tampa on Monday.

▪ Florida’s win Saturday gave it 93 points — surpassing last year’s total.

The Panthers have surpassed the 90-point mark in consecutive years for the first time in franchise history. The record of 98 points was set in 1999-2000.

A win Tuesday against Toronto would tie the record for wins in a single season, also set in 2000.

“It’s awesome and that’s all great, but it’s not something I’m looking at because, honestly, that’s the first I’ve heard of it,’’ Gallant said. “It’s very possible for us to reach that if we play well, but it’s not something we’re thinking about. We just want to take things one game at a time, play some good hockey and get as many points as we can get.’’

▪ Jagr’s 25 goals this season are most since he scored 25 with the Rangers in 2007-08 before leaving the NHL for a three-season stint in the KHL.

Florida acquired Jagr in a deal with New Jersey in 2015 then signed him to a one-year deal the day after that season ended.

“Of course I saw this coming from him, why do think I traded for him?” Tallon joked. “He’s just amazing; very gifted and talented. He and the guys on his line have such great karma. It has been fabulous.”

▪ The Panthers will hold an open practice Monday at 11 a.m. at the IceDen in Coral Springs.

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