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Is this the year: Will the Florida Panthers make the playoffs?

(The Athletic)

By: Alex Baumgartner

Is it finally time for the Florida Panthers to make a playoff run?

The last two seasons, the Florida Panthers have come close to qualifying for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. In 2017-2018 the Cats missed the playoffs by a single point. Last year they had a chance but ended up missing by 12 points. They were in the hunt for a large part of the year.

For the 2019-2020 season Florida made some big time changes to the team. In the offseason the Panthers hired Joel Quenneville, one of the best hockey coaches of the last decade. The former Chicago Blackhawks head coach won three Stanley Cups in his tenure with the team. The Panthers also signed two-time Vezina winning goalie Sergei Bobrovsky for seven years. Bobrovsky has been one of the top goaltenders in the league since he joined Columbus in 2013. The Russian national opted to not resign in Columbus after the Blue Jackets were eliminated in the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Florida also signed Anton Stralman, Noel Acciari and Brett Connolly. The Panthers have two of the best players in the NHL on their team. Jonathan Huberdeau is having a career year this season, becoming the first Panther player to reach 50 points in under 40 games and making his first NHL All Star game. Captain Aleksander Barkov is one of the top centres in the game. The big Finn has shown the league he excels as a two way forward. Florida is a deep team up front. Mike Hoffman is one of the best snipers in hockey, Evgeni Dadonov put up 70 points goals last year. All Star Vincent Trocheck is a huge asset to the team’s second line at centre. The backend is led by two All Stars in Keith Yandle and Aaron Ekblad. 

Florida is built to not depend on one player or one line. The team can rely on many different players for different situations. What do they need to do if they want to make a run at Lord Stanley’s Cup? Win. Florida has missed out too many times on the playoffs by just a handful of points. Winning games in the middle of the season is where Florida will make or break their chance at the post season. The Atlantic division is extremely close this year. Florida needs every point they can get, especially against teams in their division. 

Who needs to step up? 

Both Barkov and Huberdeau are on pace to get over 100 points this season. Aaron Ekblad and Keith Yandle are playing good this season. The three players that will need to come up big for the Cats when it's crunch time is Vincent Trocheck, Mike Matheson and Sergei Bobrovsky.

Trocheck has had an off year this season. After only playing 55 games and notching just 34 points last year, he needs to step up. Come playoff time, Florida needs Trocheck to show why he could be a number one centre on other NHL teams. In the 2017-2018 season, Trocheck was second in team scoring with 75 points. If Trocheck can play at his true level, he will be a force to be reckoned with in the playoffs, both offensively and defensively.

Mike Matheson is a legitimate top 4 d-man in my opinion. He has the wheels to stay with the fastest players in hockey. He is poised with the puck and is reliable when defending. Florida needs a dependable top 4 backend in the playoffs. Ekblad, Yandle, Stralman and Matheson will be trusted to carry the load. 

The question regarding can Sergei Bobrovsky come up big when it matters was answered in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Bobrovsky stood on his head when his eighth seeded Columbus Blue Jackets swept the best team in the NHL, the Tampa Bay Lightning. Bobrovsky hasn’t had the greatest start to his career as a Panther. He is still winning games, but it hasn’t always been pretty. If the Panthers make it to the next stage of the season, Bob will have to play like the best goalie in the world, which he could be.

Do I think Florida will make the playoffs? 

Yes. Florida will make the playoffs in my opinion. They are a well coached team and have a good structure behind them. Many of the players on this team have been playing with each other for years and they are slowly entering their primes. It has been four years since Florida lost to the New York Islanders in the first round of the playoffs. The core of the team was young then. Now they are hungrier than ever to show that they are ready to go win The Stanley Cup. Barkov and Huberdeau are on pace to one up their career years they had last season. Coach Q is experienced when it comes to coaching in the playoffs and this Florida team is deeper at defence than the past few years.

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