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Playoff spot is right there for taking by Panthers despite slump

The SportsXchange

Stephen Weiss said it first, then teammate Ed Jovanovski and coach Kevin Dineen reiterated it.

Yes, the Panthers rarely make things easy on themselves.

Florida was cruising along Tuesday to what should have been the first division championship in franchise history and its first postseason berth since 2000. The Panthers held a 3-0 lead on a Winnipeg team that looked as if it had, indeed, spent a lot of time enjoying the South Florida weather and scenery.

Then the Jets got on the board with 6:45 left in the second period, and the gates opened up on the Panthers. Florida gave up four unanswered goals before Tomas Kopecky scored to eventually force overtime, but instead of being assured a spot in the playoffs on Tuesday, the Panthers still have some work to do -- or at least get some help.

Florida travels to Washington on Thursday and needs one point to take the division. The Panthers have a four-point lead on the Capitals, but Washington can get four points and take the tiebreaker against the Panthers. Of course, had Buffalo lost in overtime to Toronto, Florida would have at least clinched the eighth spot. The Sabres ended up winning in overtime to keep the Panthers at bay.

If the Panthers make it to the postseason, they definitely will have backed their way in. Tuesday's loss was Florida's seventh in the last eight games, and the Panthers' 18 overtime losses are by far the most of any playoff contender.

"I think when you've got your foot on their throat you've got to go out and get more," Jovanovski said. "Letting them back in the game kind of changed the momentum a little bit and hurt us. We found a way to get that point but we wanted that next one to wrap things up. We've done it the hard way all year and we'll do it the hard way again."
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