Despite winning just once in their last seven outings, the Florida Panthers can end the longest postseason drought in NHL history when they host the Winnipeg Jets tonight at BankAtlantic Center.
The Panthers haven't made it to the playoffs since the spring of 2000, but all Florida needs is a win tonight against the Jets to make that dubious streak a thing of the past.
A victory would also allow Florida to claim its first-ever division title. The Panthers are three points ahead of Washington for the Southeast Division lead and the Capitals have just two games remaining in the regular season. Washington is off tonight after losing in regulation to Tampa Bay on Monday. If the division race is not settled tonight, the Panthers will get another chance to close the deal when it visits Washington on Thursday.
Florida did not fare well against this evening's opponent when the clubs last met on March 1 in Winnipeg, as the Jets routed the Panthers by a 7-0 score. Florida is still 3-1-1 against the Jets this year overall and 1-0-1 in the games played in Sunrise.
Although the Panthers have lost three straight and six of their last seven games, the club has managed to earn a point in all but two of its last seven trips to the ice, posting a 1-2-4 record over that stretch.
Florida is coming off a solid performance in Sunday's 2-1 shootout loss in Detroit. Jiri Hudler scored the deciding goal in the shootout for the Red Wings.
Tomas Fleischmann recorded the lone goal in regulation for the Panthers, while Scott Clemmensen finished with 31 stops.
"Nothing has been given to us this year," Panthers head coach Kevin Dineen said after the game. "This is what we've been playing for -- to be a big part of the conversation as we move down the stretch."
The Panthers will play two of their final three games of the regular season at home. Florida is 20-9-10 as the host this season.
Winnipeg was officially eliminated from the playoff race on Saturday and dropped a 3-2 overtime decision in Tampa Bay on the same day. Steven Stamkos scored 45 seconds into the extra session to lift the Lightning to the 3-2 decision at Tampa Bay Times Forum.
Antti Miettinen and Kyle Wellwood lit the lamp for Winnipeg, which lost for the sixth time in eight games. Ondrej Pavelec made 36 saves in a losing effort.
The Jets, who are just 13-21-5 as the guest this year, are playing the third test of a four-game road trip tonight and will cap the swing Thursday against the New York Islanders. Winnipeg will close its regular season with Saturday's home test against Tampa.