It is a huge shock to even the most diehard hockey fans, but yes, the Florida Panthers are actually in the playoffs. Seemingly one of the most forgotten teams in the NHL, the Panthers have a reputation for being at the bottom of the NHL standing all season long, but not this time around. This year the Panthers mean business.
It has been a long time coming for the Panthers to finally find the right team chemistry to mount a successful season, and this season GM Dale Tallonâ€™s team has managed to win the Atlantic Division and make the playoffs. The team picked up Jaromir Jagr, the oldest man currently playing in the NHL, and Jagr has done nothing but produce goals since his move to the Sunshine state. The Panthers also came in clutch with the acquisition of veteran goalie Roberto Luongo, long-time net minder for the Vancouver Canucks. The mix between young talent and a veteran presence has helped bring the team to a new level and ultimately has helped them reach a 2016 playoff bid.
Jagr, finished his 25th NHL season with 27 goals and 66 points. He is a pure goal scorer and at 44 years old, still has no plans of slowing down. He played his first decade of hockey in the steel city of Pittsburgh and after that moved around the league finding homes in New York, Washington, and finally last season, Florida. So far in the playoffs he has yet to score a goal, but it is not for lack of trying. He is a grinder on the ice, and still goes out every night playing his hardest.
Jussi Jokinen is another offensive veteran that has made a striking difference for this Florida team. Jokinen, a household name on the NHL assist charts, dished out 42 assists in the regular season leading his team in that category. Jokinen is trulyâ€œhockey smartâ€ and uses that to set up goals for his teammates. His ability to see a passing lane has converted into 2 assists so far this playoffs and he even has a goal.
The Panthers are also carried by some of their other big name players offensively, especially in their first three games of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals against the New York Islanders. A big name for the Panthers this season is center Aleksander Barkov. TH third year Panther veteran is only 20 years old, but leads the team in goals with 28. He is an example of the young, productive line-up in Florida.
The offense for the Panthers is impressive, but even more impressive is the return of veteran Roberto Luongo. He was regarded as one of the strongest goalies in the league during his tenure with Vancouver and Team Canada, but things seemed to cool off for a while after he left the Canucks. In 2014, he returned to Florida as the starting goalie for the second time is his long career; he had a six year stint with the Panther from 2000-2006 before being traded to Vancouver. Luongo has stepped up his game now that he is back in the spot light and has been nothing short of a brick wall between the pipes. His 2.35 goals against average this season is one of the best in his career and it is easy to see that he has found new life in his pads.
This year the Panthers showed the NHL community that they are still a relevant hockey team, and they finished first in the Atlantic Division securing a 2016 playoff spot. As of April 14th, the Panthers have found themselves down 2-1 to the young and talented New York Islanders, but have shown promise in their first playoff stint since the 2011-2012 season when they lost in the first round to New Jersey. The Panthers certainly have the talent to go all the way this season, and to quite honest, wouldnâ€™t it be great to see it happen? Finally, the Panthers are contenders, so why not see them make it to the big dance.