NOTEBOOK: After clinching playoff spot, 'fun part starts' for Panthers –

In the latest Baptist Health Practice Notebook, the Panthers share their excitement after clinching a spot in the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs
SUNRISE, Fla. — The moment the game ended, the phones started to blow up.
Whether they’d been watching all of the action intently or superstitiously ignoring score updates at all costs, it didn’t take very long for every member of the Florida Panthers to hear the news.
By virtue of the Buffalo Sabres and Pittsburgh Penguins both losing on Tuesday, the Panthers, who were enjoying an off day, had officially clinched a berth in the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
“After it was over, there was a big splash in the group chat,” defenseman Radko Gudas said. “It was fun to see everybody watching the game], kind of peeking on it. Now the fun part starts.”
Aleksander Barkov agrees.
“In the group chat, everyone was happy,” the Panthers captain said following Wednesday’s practice at FLA Live Arena. “We’re in. We’re excited about that, but we know we have a long way to go. … We got what we wanted, we got what we deserved, and now it’s time to get ready.”
Facing an uphill battle for the majority of the season, head coach Paul Maurice pointed to the team’s perseverance in January as a turning point. Trying to stay within reach of a playoff spot, they weathered a raging storm of injuries and illness, all while dealing with a brutal schedule.
Playing 15 games that month — including nine on the road and three back-to-back sets — they still managed go 8-5-2 to keep their head above water and jumpstart their second-half push.
Continuing to build from there, they went 18-7-3 over their next 28 games.
The bigger the games got, the better the team’s top players also played. Matthew Tkachuk made a habit out of posting multi-point performances, Barkov dominated at both ends of the ice, Carter Verhaeghe reached a new career-high in goals, and Brandon Montour broke out on the blue line.
And even when starting goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky was knocked out of the lineup due to a non-COVID illness, a surprise star picked up the slack to will the team across the finish line. Starting each of the last seven games, Alex Lyon, who began the season as the season as the team’s third-string goalie, has gone 6-0-1 since taking over between the pipes.
Honestly, you could spend at a paragraph or two describing how each and every player on the Panthers individually stepped up to help push the team into the playoffs. But in saying that, the driving factor behind the team’s second-half surge is revealed — every single player got it done.
“There was adversity this year,” Maurice said. “We had hard games and hard losses. They handled the adversity, and they survived. They built a team out of themselves through it.”
After winning the Presidents’ Trophy and coasting into the playoffs last season, Barkov believes that having to fight tooth and claw to get in this time around will only make the Panthers that much better.
“It definitely helps when you’re playing that type of game for a while,” Barkov said. “You’re not going into the playoffs and turning that switch on. We’ve been playing hard for a while.”
And now that they’ve come this far, anything is possible.
“There’s 16 teams, and they can all win,” Maurice said. “One of my assistant coaches, Jamie Kompon, has a Stanley Cup ring coming in as an eighth seed. These teams are all good.”
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The Panthers are in the playoffs, but their placement remains up in the air.
Sitting at 42-31-8 with one game left to play, they currently occupy the first wild card in the Eastern Conference. Trailing the Panthers by just one point and in position to potentially take over that spot, the New York Islanders are in the second wild card with a record of 41-31-9.
If the Islanders managed to pick up two points against the Montreal Canadiens in their regular-season finale on Wednesday, Maurice said he’d plan to play his regular lineup in Game 82 against the Carolina Hurricanes at FLA Live Arena on Thursday in order to try and reclaim the seventh seed.
Whichever team finishes as the eighth seed will face the Boston Bruins in Round 1.
With the Bruins racking up an NHL-record 64 wins, that’s certainly not a bad team to avoid.
“We will try to finish has far up in our standing as we possibly can,” Maurice said.
With the Panthers clinching a playoff spot, Sam Bennett has even more time to get healthy.
Out of the lineup since March 20 due to an undisclosed injury, Bennett, who returned to the ice earlier this month, did not skate on Wednesday. As of right now, Maurice hasn’t ruled him out for Game 1 of the playoffs, but did say that the hard-nosed center won’ play on Thursday.
“He hasn’t progressed as fast as we want,” Maurice said. “That still doesn’t necessarily keep him out [for Game 1], but we need the next three or four days to see an upswing.”
In 63 games this season, Bennett has recorded 40 points (16 goals, 24 assists).
Carter Verhaeghe – Aleksander Barkov – Sam Reinhart
Eetu LuostarinenAnton LundellPatric Hornqvist (LTIR)
Ryan LombergEric StaalAnthony Duclair
Givani SmithColin WhiteNick Cousins
Gustav ForslingAaron Ekblad
Marc Staal – Brandon Montour
Josh Mahura – Radko Gudas
Extra: Casey Fitzgerald
Alex Lyon
Sergei Bobrovsky
Note: Matthew Tkachuk took a maintenance day and did not participate in practice*


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