As far as the Florida Panthers are concerned, the playoffs have already started.
The Panthers look to extend a season-high four-game winning streak when they host the New York Rangers.
Florida beat the Washington Capitals 3-2 on Wednesday for its seventh win in eight games. The Panthers are in 11th place in the Eastern Conference, but are still very much in the hunt for a playoff spot.
“Each game we win we get closer and closer,” center Jozef Stumpel said. “We still have hope, and we will keep pushing.”
Florida has not reached the postseason since the 1999-2000 season. That’s also the last season in which the Panthers stretched a winning streak to five games.
“This is a huge two points for us,” winger Jon Sim said after the win over Washington. “Every game now is the biggest game of the year.”
Stumpel scored on Wednesday and has 17 points in his last nine games. Sim and Joe Nieuwendyk also had goals for the Panthers, who were 6-12-4 after a 12-game losing streak that ended in late November.
Florida scored all three of its goals on the power play and is 4-for-13 with the man advantage in its last two games. The Panthers’ defensemen have five goals and 12 assists in the past eight games.
“We had lots of shots on the net,” Nieuwendyk said. “Anytime we had a chance we put the puck to the net. The hockey gods were on our side tonight.”
The Rangers lost 6-3 to Philadelphia on Wednesday, ending their three-game winning streak and falling into a tie with the Flyers atop the Atlantic Division. New York has a game in hand on Philadelphia.
Jaromir Jagr, who leads the league with 49 goals and 104 points, scored all three goals Wednesday for the Rangers. He scored his 24th power-play goal, breaking Vic Hadfield’s single-season team record, and tied Mike Gartner’s club record for goals by a right wing.
“I felt confident and lucky,” said Jagr, who has three of his 15 career hat tricks this season.
“I don’t think that we pressured well in our own end,” coach Tom Renney said of his team’s penalty killing. “I thought we made poor decisions on our penalty kill as to when to jump and when not to jump in and pressure the puck carrier.”
The Panthers have won just two of their last 14 games against the Rangers, with one tie, one overtime loss and one shootout loss over that span.