Standings Watch: Florida Panthers keep it close

With Saturday's shootout win in Tampa, the Panthers kept their ever slimmer playoff hopes alive. Sports Club Stats has the Panthers with an 18.2% chance to make the playoffs. Last night's win, along with the Carolina loss put Florida back up above 15%. This is slim, but still above the teams directly ahead and behind the Cats: the Thrashers at 8.2% and the Maple Leafs at 2.3%. If the Panthers can hit 92 points, they've still got a good chance to get in. The problem: the over .700 pace needed is far past what they've done so far this season.

I said two weeks ago that the Panthers needed 14 points out of every 10 games for the last 30 games of the season. Thirty games left coincided with a five-game homestand and a Dale Tallon ultimatum that the team's performance on that homestand would determine his actions at the trade deadline. The Cats started that stand badly with a loss to the Blues and a shootout loss to the Sabres. They ended up 2-3-1 in the last 6. If they can win the next 4 games, putting together a win streak 2 games longer than they've managed all season, they will be one point back from where they need to be.

Three of the next four teams are below the Panthers in the Eastern Conference standings while the fourth is the team directly ahead of them. The Panthers are facing two of their deadly enemies in these last four games before the trade deadline: putting together a win streak of more than 3 games and their tendency to play up or down to the level of their opponents.

The remaining games are as follows:

2/21 - Florida at New York Islanders (Season series: 2-0-0)
2/23 - Florida at Ottawa (Season series: 0-1-0)
2/25 - Florida at Atlanta (Season series: 1-2-1)
2/27 - New Jersey at Florida (Season series: 2-1-0)

Most of these teams are better right now than their records indicate. The Devils are on a 7 game win streak. The Islanders have climbed out of last place in the Conference and the Senators pulled themselves back up out of last place with a 1-0 shootout win Saturday courtesy of new Senators and former Panthers goalie Craig Anderson.

Although they're still not quite out of it, Dale Tallon has to proceed as if the team is not making the playoffs this year. He needs to build for the future, so expect him to make moves in the next week that benefit the team in the long term even if they reduce the chance that the Cats make the playoffs this year, even if they win games this week.