The Florida Panthers have a seven-point lead in the Southeast Division and get this: They will take over first place in the Eastern Conference if they beat the Sabres tonight. Florida hasn't held that spot since it was 28-15-13 on Feb. 12, 1997 -- when Lindy Ruff was a Panthers assistant and the franchise was nine months removed from its lone trip to the Stanley Cup final.
The Panthers posted a 2-0 win last night in Boston, are gunning for their first four-game winning streak since 2007 tonight and their first back-to-back wins ever in Buffalo (they posted a 3-2 victory here on Oct. 29). They figured to be improved with so many new faces, but first in the East?
"We've really made an effort to downplay it," said first-year coach Kevin Dineen, who directed the Sabres' minor leaguers in Portland the last three years. "It's one game and then somebody plays tomorrow night and they fip-flop back over you. We had a win last night that we probably were thoroughly outplayed and were fortunate to walk out of Boston with two points.
"The margin of first overall or a playoff spot is just so low you don't sweat those areas. We know we'll have our hands full. We played a game in Los Angeles last week where I thought we thoroughly outplayed Los Angeles in every aspect of the game (outshooting the Kings, 42-26, in a 3-1 loss) and didn't get a point so it has that kind of give-and-take and I think the standings are the same way."
Still, this is a franchise that hasn't played a playoff series since 2000 and has won exactly one postseason game since getting swept in the '96 final by Colorado. So this is heady stuff.
Admitted Dineen, "It's really nice waking up your team is in a playoff spot and has a certain level of respect, but things are very fleeting."
This is a tough stretch for a team that always has rugged travel. Florida is on game seven of a run that has seven out of eight on the road. The Panthers have gone 4-2 so far.
Watch the Florida defense tonight. Panthers blueliners have an NHL-high 74 points (15-59-74), with Jason Garrison's eight goals leading the NHL and one more than he had in 113 games heading into this season and former Sabre Brian Campbell tied for fourth in the NHL with 22 assists.
taggedNHL | Sabres