Florida has played in so many close games this year its a sin. If they won ten more of their (last time I checked) 48 one-goal games they would be in a playoff spot. And to say "to win ten more of those games" is not so much of a stretch when you think about it.
It could easily have happened if they scored instead of hit the post or got another bounce during the game. One bounce. Florida just came off a hard fought loss to a Crosby-less and Malkin-less Penguins team. But despite the Pens lack of stars, they have been playing at a high level of hockey. While watching the Panthers/Pens match up I realized just how close this team is to a playoff spot.
You can go back to my point of just ten more of those one goal games going in our favor as proof. But looking at the make-up of this team now, they are pretty darn close to contending for a playoff spot. And with a lot of money this off-season they can improve even more so.
The Panthers have 2 lines that can contribute scoring, with their workhorse Weiss and top player Booth. They have a checking group of players with veteran leadership like Reasoner (and Samsonov although he can play on the 2nd line). They have a protypical 4th line with an underrated 4th line center in Ryan Carter. Carter won't get you any style points , but he is aware of where he needs to be on the ice and where the smart play is. They also have their tough guy in Hordichuk.
On Defense they have some veteran leadership (less now) in Wideman with a group of young, to mid-aged guys. And the one thing that is great for the Panthers is their D have size. You can't teach size and only one D of their top 8 is under 6'0''.
They have two goalies who can play. Whether you think Vokoun should be back or not (I don't) you have to admit he is good enough to keep you in games and has the ability to steal a few if he focuses. Clemmer is a back up who can step in and play a lot of games too.
Looking at the make up of this team, is it impossible to think that they could have had 80+ points this year? Contending for the playoffs is a realistic goal for this team and for whatever reason, too many of the close games this year went the wrong way.
Now the Cats finish this year with 3 games against 2 teams in the top 5 of the conference. The Caps twice and Lightning once. These 3 divisional games are a great measuring stick of how this team matches up against division rivals and conference heavy weights. And a great measuring stick to see just how good the Panthers are....really.
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