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Behind Enemy Lines: Previewing the Florida Panthers, Philadelphia Flyers and Tampa Bay Lightning

The season wraps up with two playoff locks and a third that needs a miracle.

NHL: Florida Panthers at Tampa Bay Lightning Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Florida Panthers

Monday, 7:00 p.m. at BB&T Center

NHL: Florida Panthers at New York Islanders Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Two weeks ago, the Florida Panthers were in a position that gave them plenty of hope: within a point of a playoff spot and holding multiple games in hand over everyone above them thanks to a January game postponement that was rescheduled for the day after the end of the season. But the thing about games in hand is that you have to, you know, win them for them to be useful, and the Panthers picked a terrible time to hit a 5-4-1 skid, what with the New Jersey Devils firing off a 7-2-1 stretch to move seven points clear of the Panthers, albeit with the Panthers still holding two games in hand - one of which will be played tonight..

It’s been a top-heavy scoring year for the Panthers, one of seven teams with at least four players topping 60 points. They’re led by Aleksander Barkov, a one-time Hart Trophy darkhorse who has set career highs in assists (49) and points (75). The other three players - 30-goal scorer Vincent Trocheck, Jonathan Huberdeau and Charlotte Checkers legend Evgenii Dadonov - give the Panthers scoring punch that’s potent but largely under the radar.

But depth scoring is another issue entirely. From first place (Barkov) to fourth (Dadonov), the falloff is 15 points (75 to 60). From fourth to eighth (Jamie McGinn), it’s 33 points: 60 to 27. The Panthers could really have stood to get some production from the likes of Reilly Smith and Jonathan Marchessault, who are piling up points for...uh, the Vegas Golden Knights.

The Panthers are middle of the pack in almost every statistical category: 15th in goals, 14th in goals against, 20th on the power play, 14th on the penalty kill, 19th in Corsi percentage. They don’t do one thing particularly well, but they aren’t a disaster in any regard. James Reimer and Roberto Luongo have been as advertised, not great but not terrible. Florida’s 2017-18 season will be in the encyclopedia next to a season that was just sort of there.

What to Watch For

  • The Hurricanes had lost four straight in Sunrise before winning last March. They haven’t been back since, and can start a new streak with a win tonight.
  • Panthers coach Bob Boughner was briefly a Hurricane, playing 43 games for the Canes in the 2003-04 season before joining the Flames on their run to the 2004 Stanley Cup Final.

Philadelphia Flyers

Thursday, 7:00 p.m. at Wells Fargo Center

Jamie Kellner

In early December the Flyers were bringing up the rear of the Metro, an 8-11-7 start prompting calls for the coach’s firing and reckoning for just about anyone on the roster. Fast forward to April and not only is Dave Hakstol’s job safe, but the Flyers are in a tie with Columbus for third place in the Metro and have all but locked up a playoff spot.

And all this despite another season of goaltending instability, injuries to Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth forcing GM Ron Hextall into a deadline move for the Red Wings’ Petr Mrazek. Mrazek has been inconsistent, but he’s at least hovered at .500, turning in his best performance as a Flyer in their 4-3 overtime win over the Bruins yesterday afternoon.

The Flyers will go as deep in the playoffs as their goaltending will take them, but they could certainly use Neuvirth or Elliott to return to give themselves a better chance. In the meantime, Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier and Jakub Voracek are giving the Flyers a fighting chance in just about any game. With three games remaining, Giroux is five points away from 100, looking to become the first player not named Connor McDavid to top the century mark since Patrick Kane had 106 points in 2015-16. Giroux and Voracek are the first teammates to tally 60 assists in the same season since the Sedin brothers did so in 2011.

Offensive firepower is the Flyers’ calling card, and the Canes will do well to avoid getting into a track meet with a team whose rebuild is way ahead of schedule.

What to Watch For

  • The Flyers and Canes have played three games this season, all won by the visitors. That would seem to indicate that Thursday could be a Canes win, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
  • The Canes have faced Mrazek twice this season, going 1-1 against him with the win coming on March 1 in Philadelphia. Alex Lyon took the win in their most recent matchup.
  • On the road, Bill Peters will not have the last change, meaning it will be a challenge to get Jaccob Slavin out against the Giroux line. Will the other Canes be up to the task to shut down one of the top lines in hockey?

Tampa Bay Lightning

Saturday, 7:00 p.m. at PNC Arena

NHL: Nashville Predators at Tampa Bay Lightning Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Canes’ season comes to an end Saturday as they return home to host the Tampa Bay Lightning. Bound for the playoffs since the first month of the season, the Lightning added two significant pieces in J.T. Miller and Ryan McDonagh from the Rangers at the trade deadline. Miller has been fantastic, scoring at a point-per-game clip since coming to Tampa, and while the Lightning have been streaky - enduring both a five-game win streak and a three-game losing streak since the trade deadline - they are still well positioned for a deep playoff run.

While the Hurricanes will be playing out the string, the Lightning will have plenty to play for. The Bruins’ recent torrid stretch, 11-2-3 since the start of March, has vaulted them up to the top of the Atlantic Division, and with the made-up game against the Panthers looming on Sunday when everyone else in the league will be off, the Lightning will be looking to give themselves as much cushion as they can obtain to clinch the top spot in the division - which presumably means that they will throw everything at the Canes to try to finish off the season sweep.

And it’s been a season in which the Lightning have owned the Hurricanes, outscoring Carolina 10-5. Tyler Johnson has five points in the season series, including a hat trick in Tampa in January. Brayden Point has four. Andrei Vasilevskiy has a .922 save percentage. In short, the Lightning have feasted on the Canes, and if the home team isn’t careful, they could be on the receiving end of a beatdown from a team that’s looking to set a tone for the postseason.

What to Watch For

  • The last time the Lightning were the visitors for Game 82 at PNC Arena, they beat the Canes 6-2 to knock Carolina out of the playoffs on the final day of the 2010-11 regular season. That was the closest the Canes have come to a playoff spot since 2009. The Canes will, uh, certainly be looking to exact revenge.
  • ...I mean, it’s the final, meaningless game of a lost season. Real talk: there ain’t much to watch for.