Conn Smythe and the Kessel Run

At the conclusion of this year’s Stanley Cup series the Professional Hockey Writers Association will huddle up to debate and vote on the recipient of the 2016 Conn Smythe Trophy. A tradition that goes back to the 1964-1965 season, the award is presented to the player who is determined to be the most valuable to his team during the playoffs. The trophy is presented immediately after the game before the official presentation of the Stanley Cup to the winning team.

At this point we don’t know which team will hold aloft the famed Stanley Cup but with a 3-1 lead going into tonight’s game it seems likely that the Pittsburgh Penguins will garner their franchise’s 4thchampionship. As for the Conn Smythe award? Things are a little more complicated there.
It seems to be generally agreed that there are 3 main candidates for the award. Sidney Crosby, Phil Kessel, and Matt Murray. Kris Letang’s name has been thrown around as well but most eyes are focusing on the former three to be the most likely to add some metal to their trophy shelf.

For Crosby the Playoff MVP award would one of the few he hasn’t won over his 11-year career. You will recall that Evgeni Malkin took the honor when the Penguins won the Cup in 2009. A vote for Crosby wouldn’t exactly be an honorary one though. With 17 points in 22 games Crosby has definitely contributed mightily, especially given that 3 of those goals were game winners in the Eastern Conference Finals against Tampa Bay. Those numbers also indicate Crosby willingness to adopt the Penguins defensive style of play rather than going for the big offense. Nobody will bat an eye if the trophy lands in Crosby’s hands.

As for Matt Murray, it’s hard to find a better story than a rookie goaltender who posted 14 wins in 19 games while maintaining a 2.09 goal against average. His performance has led many to ask if the Penguins would have even made it this far with starter Marc-Andre Fleury in the net. If he manages one more victory he will have tied the record for most playoff wins by a rookie. Sounds like MVP material doesn’t it?

Then there’s Phil Kessel, the much-maligned right-winger who carried Toronto’s woes like a yoke around his neck. Now here is a story. As a Maple Leaf it seemed like Kessel was to blame for every loss, accused of every kind of infraction, and forced to explain the team’s shortcomings every single day. Fast-forward to the present and Kessel has scored 21 points in 22 games as a Penguin. His 10-playoff goals are the most on the team and he skates with the fabled HBK line that has acted like the rocket fuel to power the Pittsburgh jet engines. Nothing feels better than to prove someone else terribly wrong and wouldn’t we all feel just a little glee if Kessel were able to hoist that trophy over his shoulders thus shaking off all the bad mojo that’s been sitting there for years? Yes. Yes we would.

No matter who wins this year’s Conn Smythe they will find themselves stepping into a long line of talent and leadership. 42 different players have held the award over its 48 year history and whether it be Crosby, Murray, or Kessel they will all fit in nicely.

Root for the Sharks! You Know You Want To.

For years people have been predicting the San Jose Sharks would win the Cup. Remember 2008 when the Sharks finished the season with franchise records in wins (53) and points (117) only to be knocked off by 8th seed Anaheim? Or the four game sweep by the Blackhawks in 2010 after leading the Western Conference? There’s also the 2014 first-round loss to the Los Angeles Kings after being up 3-0 in the series. Needless to say the San Jose Sharks have had the players, the coaches, and the skills needed to be knocking on the Stanley Cup door for years, if not decades, but until this year they haven’t been allowed in.

All of which leaves fans in a strange position. Is this the year it’s safe to put your emotions out there and root for a championship or will hearts be crushed as the Stanley Cup eludes them once again? It’s a tough decision but there is some evidence that your love and support will not be wasted. The San Jose Sharks have shown their mettle in the playoffs this year.

It began with California rivals, the LA Kings, in the first round. San Jose needed to take the series not only to advance but also to wipe the slate clean as far as the Kings go. Remember that 2014 series? That kind of loss sticks with a team and it needed to be cleansed. Fortunately, it worked and a combination of great goaltending, staunch defense, and a guy by the name of Joe Pavelski gave San Jose a 4-1 series win. After the win in Game 5, first-year coach Pete DeBoer summed it up, “I haven’t been around here for some of the stuff that’s gone on in the past. I’m sure for some guys, they felt like we exorcised some demons tonight.”

Next came the Nashville Predators and a 7-game series that almost sent the Sharks back to San Jose with their hats in their hands. Fortunately second-line center, Logan Couture, decided that simply wasn’t going to happen on his watch, setting a franchise record for most points in a series with 6 goals and 5 assists. The team also saved their best game for the last, beating Nashville 5-0 to win the series 4-3.

On to St. Louis where the Sharks took the Blues out in 6 games. There were two main factors that contributed to the Sharks success in the series. First, coming back after losses. A 2-1 loss in Game 1 was followed by a resounding 4-0 victory in Game 2. After a 6-3 loss in Game 4 the Sharks came back with a forceful 6-3 win in Game 5. The second major factor was, once again, a guy named Joe Pavelski who dominated the Blues defense with 4 goals and 5 assists in the 6 game series. Pavelski is leading the post-season with 13 goals and he’s second in points at 22. The Blues simply couldn’t stop him.

And thus the San Jose Sharks have advanced to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time in franchise history. After years of being told they were the team to beat they have finally earned the mantle and the only thing standing between them and the Stanley Cup are the Pittsburgh Penguins. Despite a 3-2 loss in Game 1, the San Jose Sharks may be destined for this championship. Go ahead and root for them. It’s going to be okay.

And the Hart Trophy Goes To….

The Hart Trophy is awarded each year to the player who is “deemed to be the most valuable to his team”. Technically the current trophy is called the Hart Memorial Trophy as the original cup was retired to the Hall of Fame in 1960 but regardless of what it’s called the Hart Memorial Trophy is more widely known as the MVP award.

Voting for the MVP takes place at the end of the regular season by members of the Professional Hockey Writers Association. Each member of the association designates his or her top 5 candidates using a point system. The top three finalists are announced ahead of time but the winner is not named until the NHL Awards ceremony, which takes place after the playoffs.

Which leads us to this moment in time when the three finalists have been named and the speculation on who will be named this year’s MVP can begin in earnest. Patrick Kane, Sidney Crosby, and Jamie Benn are this year’s finalists. Let the debating begin!

 Actually, truth be told, there may not be so much discussion and argument this year. In fact, there seems to be very little as almost everyone agrees that Patrick Kane is as close to a shoe-in for the award as there has ever been.

A 27-year old right-winger for the Chicago Blackhawks, Kane led the NHL with 106 points this season. He either scored or assisted on 45% of the Blackhawk’s goals this season. It’s hard to imagine someone being “deemed more valuable to his team” than that. He is also the first American-born player to lead the league in scoring and is trying to be the first Blackhawk to win the award since Stan Mikita in 1968.

Amazing puck handling, incredible passing, and thunderous shooting have always been part of Kane’s game but this year he has particularly excelled giving him the scoring championship with a 17 and 21 point lead on Benn and Crosby respectively.

It’s hard to imagine giving the award to one of the other finalists, not that they haven’t had their own incredible seasons. Benn finished the season with career bests in power play goals (17) and goals (41). He is the first player in the Dallas Stars’ history to be named a finalist for the Hart Trophy. Sidney Crosby is no stranger to MVP voting having won it twice in the past. With 85 points on the season he not only led the Pittsburgh Penguins in scoring but also led among centers throughout the NHL.

But when you look at the player “deemed to be the most valuable to his team” you have to consider impact and there seems to be general consensus that Kane’s stellar performance this year helped Chicago excel at a time when many of his teammates were having difficulty producing offense on their own. Kane’s play made the people around him better.

But for now we wait. The ballots are in. Predictions will be made. Bets placed. Either way, we’ll all find out at the NHL Awards show in Vegas this June.

What Crosby Drought?

Eight games without a goal. It doesn’t seem so bad right? Lots of NHL players go much longer than that without putting the puck into the net. If you add five assists during those eight games you might even call it a hot streak. Except it’s Sydney Crosby we’re talking about and eight games without a goal is not only unusual but almost panic inducing. The truth is that almost any game without a Crosby goal could be called a drought. If we really think about it we’d probably admit to ourselves that every time number 87 touches the puck anywhere past the blue line we’re surprised if it doesn’t go in.

Needless to say then that going into Game 2 of the Penguins Lightning series Pittsburgh fans were beyond thrilled to have their star Captain put one over the shoulder of Andrei Vasilevskiy’s shoulder in overtime. Not only did it break Crosby’s goal-less streak and tie the series at 1-1, it also gave Crosby his first career playoff OT goal, which seems unbelievable for a man many consider to be the most clutch player in the NHL.

The shot came 40 seconds into the first overtime period when teammate Bryan Rust dropped the puck back to Crosby who one-timed it into the top left corner of the net. It was a huge goal for Crosby and a timely one for Pittsburgh, giving them a 3-2 win over Tampa Bay and a ticket to Game 3 tied up rather than down two.

No one was more relieved than Crosby. “It definitely tests your patience sometimes. You’ve just got to focus on going back out there and trying to create,” he said after the game. “It feels good to get rewarded.”

The eight game goalless streak tied the longest playoff drought of Crosby’s career but any frustrations he might have had didn’t show in his overall efforts. If anything it seemed to drive him harder as he peppered Vasilevskiy with six solid shots over the course of the game. The Tampa Bay goalie wasn’t giving an inch of space however, notching 38 saves including a spectacular glove save on a Crosby backhand in the second period. Lightning coach Jon Cooper recognized the young tender’s performance saying, “Vasi was probably the reason the game went into overtime in the first place.”

With the streak behind him and the series tied, Crosby and the Penguins hope to take the lead in Game 3, which takes place at Amelie Arena in Tampa. Many Pittsburgh fans wonder whether Crosby’s Game 2 winner was the beginning of a hot streak or another cold spell but Lightning coach Cooper doesn’t know that it matters, pointing out that a cold streak for Crosby is a hot streak for most everyone else.

Sharks vs. Predators: It Comes To This

What began to look like an easy series for the Sharks quickly turned into a slog through the mud between two teams who may be at the end of their ropes physically and mentally. Six games and two overtime decisions later these players are spent, especially the Predators who came off a grueling series against the Mighty Ducks. One of the wins in this series was even a triple overtime to add insult to injury. No matter what happens on Thursday, San Jose and Nashville are leaving it all on the ice.

When the Predators finally knocked off Anaheim in Game 7 of their first round series they only had one day to rest before starting Game 1 against San Jose. The lack of down time might help explain why Nashville seemed completely out of gas by the third period, allowing a total of 5 goals in less than 17 minutes. While Predator goalie Peka Rinne managed to shut the Sharks out for two periods the wheels fell off the cart in the third and San Jose took the early lead in the series.

With just one day off between Games 1 and 2 the Predators hoped to rejuvenate and tie the series at 1 apiece. It didn’t turn out as planned with San Jose eking out a 3-2 win. Of the 5 goals scored during that matchup, 4 came in the third period making Nashville fans worry that if their team didn’t get a break they might find themselves out in the second round.

Game 3 came two days later with travel from California to Tennessee in between. With San Jose undefeated on the road in the post-season and a weary Nashville team heading to the ice things were not looking good. Maybe it was the hometown advantage. Maybe their backs were against the wall. Whatever the reason, the Nashville Predators dominated the Sharks to a 4-1 win, putting the series at 2-1. Pekka Rinne was the standout again with 26 saves against a Sharks team who hadn’t lost an away game since March 17th.

Game 4 stayed in Tennessee giving the Predators two full night’s sleep in their own beds. They needed it because Game 4 went into triple overtime before Nashville center, Mike Fisher, finally put one past Sharks goalie Martin Jones. The series was tied at 2.

Game 5 came after another travel day back to California where the long string of hockey games without a break may have finally done the Predators in. San Jose dominated the game with a 5-1 win that put them back in the lead 3-2.

A haggard Predators team came back to Nashville for Game 6. Tapping into whatever reserves of energy they had they managed to force overtime on a Colin Wilson goal in the third period.  Two minutes into overtime 23-year old Viktor Arvidsson scored his first career playoff goal to keep Nashville’s hopes alive. ”The second most exciting part of him scoring was that it was in the first three minutes,” Predators left-winger Colin Wilson said. ”We get to get to bed at a regular time.”

Game 7 will feature something the Predators haven’t seen since mid-April; an extra day off thanks to a Selena Gomez concert at the SAP Center in San Jose. Perhaps that extra day’s rest will make a difference. Either way the winner of this game will face the winner of the Blues/Stars series, which has also reached Game 7, proving once again that the NHL Playoffs are a marathon not a sprint.

Kris Letang and the Interference Penalty

Late in the first period of Monday night’s game between the Penguins and the Capitals, Washington center Marcus Johansson took a brutal hit from Pittsburgh defenseman, Kris Letang that resulted in a one-game suspension. With 21-year old defensive phenom Olli Maatta out with an upper body injury, the Penguins have to face the likes of Ovechkin, Backstrom, and Oshie without their top two defensemen.

The hit on Johansson wasn’t a direct head shot which would have resulted in an illegal check to the head penalty. The officials didn’t seem to think the head was the main target of the hit and the footage seemed to back that up. It also wasn’t deemed a charging penalty though many claim Letang’s skates were off the ice before contact. A close examination, however, seems to indicate that his skates didn’t leave the ice until contact was already made. In the end the NHL Department of Player Safety is focused on one simple fact; Johansson wasn’t eligible to be hit in any manner on that play, the puck was long gone, and that makes Letang’s hit illegal no matter what.

The one-game suspension comes at an important time for the Penguins who lead the series 2-1. With both Maatta and Letang out for Game 4, they will have to rely on rookie Derrick Pouliot and former Edmonton Oiler Justin Schultz to pick up the slack. Schultz hasn’t seen the ice since Game 1 of the first round and Monday was Pouliot’s first playoff game ever.

When asked how he plans to deal with the lack of experienced defensemen Penguin’s coach Mike Sullivan was matter-of-fact. “We’ll prepare the same way,” Sullivan said. “We’re not going to change our style of play. We’ve had guys go down with injuries for long stretches of time, important players. So, I think our team understands how we have to play in order to be successful.”

The series between these two teams has had its fair share of cheap shots and controversy. Game 1 saw Capitals’ forward Tom Wilson go out of his way to make knee-to-knee contact with Penguins’ forward Conor Sheary. While no penalty was called on the ice, Wilson later received a fine. In Game 2, it was Brooks Orpik’s illegal hit that knocked Maatta out for at least 2 games. Orpik received a 3-game suspension for the check. Letang’s penalty and suspension in Game 3 are only the next in a series. Clearly this has been a bruising and emotional series.

With the favored Capitals a game down it’s a sure bet that things are not going to get any softer on the ice either. Whether the sentences being handed down by Player Safety will help to keep the series under control remains to be seen.

Anything but the Blues in St. Louis

When the St. Louis Blues and the Chicago Blackhawks meet during the regular season expectations for an exciting match-up are high. When the Blackhawks and Blues meet in the playoffs the anticipation for fireworks is off the charts.

Sharing a division since 1970, the Hawks Blues rivalry is the most intense as far as penalty minutes and fighting goes. The hatred between these two teams has simmered for decades perhaps reaching it’s peak during what is referred to as the Saint Patrick’s Day Massacre, a brutal match on March 17, 1991 where nearly 300 penalty minutes were handed out along with 22 games worth of suspensions.

Flash forward to this year and once again we see the rivals meeting and this time the stakes couldn’t be higher. The Blackhawks are the defending Stanley Cup champions while the Blues have suffered 3 consecutive first round ousters, one of which came at the Hawks’ hands.

While the Blues managed to shake off their demons and nab a 4-3 series win it was the fans that came out ahead in this series. The hockey played was nothing short of amazing.

Game 1 was the Brian Elliott show as the Blues’ netminder stymied the Hawks for his first playoff shut out. David Backes scored the only goal of the night at 9:04 into overtime. With a bad bounce off a Blackhawks defenseman the solitary goal gave the home team a thrilling victory.

Enter Game 2 where a late third period goal after a Coach’s Challenge chalked up a win for the Hawks. Joel Quenneville’s challenge negated a Blues goal and set both teams up for another tense ending.  Andrew Shaw stuffed home a rebound with 4:19 remaining to tie the series 1-1.
Game 3 saw the teams moved to Chicago where the Blues retook the series lead 2-1 after a bruising match that ended with a power play goal set up by a high sticking penalty on Chicago star, and potential MVP, Patrick Kane.

With Game 4 the Blues took a commanding 3-1 lead made possible by two powerful wrist-shots by Vladimir Tarasenko. Jaden Schwartz scored the tie-breaking goal on a power play in the third period.
Back in St. Louis for Game 5 the Patrick Kane’s backhander in the second overtime gave the Hawks another win and put the series at 3-2. It was Kane’s fist goal of the playoffs and provided a much-needed psychological boost for a team that needed to stage a major comeback to overcome a 3-1 deficit.

Game 6 gave Blues fans some serious anxiety as a recharged Hawks team bowled them over 6-3, forcing Game 7. With three goals, the second period of this game might have been the best Hawks period of the entire season.

Which brings it all to Game 7, a barn-burner that ended with forward Troy Brouwer’s brilliant second effort getting the puck into the net for a Blues win. According to Brouwer, it was “the ugliest goal I’ve ever scored and probably the timeliest goal I’ve ever scored.”

The Blues have little time to rest on their laurels as their second round series against the Dallas Stars begins on Friday but for St. Louis fans a win against their fiercest rival is not only sweet, it’s been a long time coming.

Way to Go

“Way to go.” Those may be the most depressing, condescending, and out-of-character words ever spoken through the public address system at a National Hockey League game. The fact that they were entirely appropriate given the chaos that was erupting in the arena doesn’t change the fact that things have gotten so bad in Philadelphia that the voice of the Flyers, Lou Nolan, actually resorted to the kind of language usually reserved for older brothers and upperclassmen rebuking their younger counterparts. “Way to go.” Could it get any worse than to hear those words amplified across the entire arena, through the cameras, and out into thousands of homes where stupefied hockey fans stare at each other and ask, “Did he just say that?”

For those not in the know Nolan’s words came after the second round of game disruption where fans threw promotional bracelets onto the ice as an expression of their disgust or their unhappiness or their whatever. They were mad at something or other and chose to convey that by tossing light-up LED trinkets not only on the ice but also at the officials and even opposing players. The fans earned a minor penalty for delay of game, which might have mattered more if the Capitals weren’t already trouncing Philly 5-1.

The ruckus began after Flyer’s forward Pierre-Edouard Bellemare delivered a brutal check on defenseman Dmitry Orlov, slamming him headfirst into the boards. While Orlov managed to skate off the ice under his own power he clearly needed medical attention and the rest of the Capitals came to his defense. After officials pulled the ensuing scrum apart, Bellemare received a 5-minute major and a game misconduct. Two other Flyers’ players received penalties as well but the bracelet rain didn’t begin until the crowd realized none of the Capitals’ players would be receiving penalty time.

As the storm of white promotional toys gained momentum announcer Lou Nolan pleaded with fans to stop the madness. His appeal seemed to work for a time but it wasn’t long before the shower continued and the officials were forced to call a delay of game penalty on Philadelphia. It was at this point that a clearly exasperated Nolan offered his rebuke, ““OK, those of you that have been throwing, you’ve done it now. Two-minute bench minor on the Flyers for delay of the game … Way to go!”

Throwing items on the ice isn’t new and the list of items launched from the seats is as odd as it is long. From pennies and nickels in the 1940s to Detroit’s bizarre octopus fetish that began in the 50s. There’s also a 3-foot leopard shark that made its way onto the ice as a show of support of the San Jose Sharks or the slabs of Alberta beef thrown out for Edmonton’s Oilers. In Toronto, fans of the Maple Leafs became so disgusted with their team’s play they even threw their valuable jerseys over the glass. Former Hawk’s President Bill Tobin recalled a game in Montreal where some disgruntled fan threw an alarm clock into play. “They thought it was time we woke up, I guess,” Tobin was heard to say.

While celebratory traditions like throwing hats for a hat trick are rarely penalized the kind of angry demonstration exhibited in Philadelphia crossed the line. Orlov was even hit in the face by a bracelet while receiving medical treatment after Bellamare’s hit. Had the game been closer, or the series for that matter, the ramifications would have been more severe but not only did most Philly fans leave the Wells Fargo Center with a 6-1 loss; they had a bad taste in their mouths as well.

2016 NHL Playoffs Preview

The 2015-2016 regular season has come to a close. With over 1200 games played the field of 30 has been winnowed down to 16, none of which hail from Canada, something that hasn’t happened in 45 years. Despite its lack of Northern exposure, the 2016 playoffs look to be as exciting and unpredictable as ever. The number of wins during the regular season are irrelevant. The points totals are history. None of that matters. It’s all about who can win now. With that in mind let’s take a quick look at the matchups for this year’s first round.

Beginning in the Eastern conference we have this year’s President’s Trophy winners, the Washington Capitals, going up against wild card Philadelphia Flyers. While the Capitals are pretty much accepted as the best team in the league this year that in no way means they’ll glide past the Flyers who surged at season’s end to nab a playoff spot. Expect a bruising match-up with the Capitals coming out on top but perhaps a bit more shaken and tired than expected.

The Florida Panthers set a franchise record for points this year and hope for a deep run in the playoffs. They’re up against the wild card Islanders who have reached the playoffs for the third time in four years. With Nick Bjugstad surging at the end of the season the Panthers seemed poised for the win though Islander defenseman Travis Hamonic’s return from injury could provide a much-needed boost for the team from Brooklyn.

In what may be the most interesting and thrilling match-up of the Eastern Conference, the Pittsburgh Penguins face off against the New York Rangers. Sound familiar? It should because the Rangers have beaten the Penguins 7 out of their last 8 post-season meetings and ousted them each of the last two years. On the Pittsburgh side, expect big things from a resurgent Sidney Crosby who helped fuel the team’s winning streak at the end of the season. The Rangers, on the other hand, are stacked but how much can they expect out of 34 year-old Henrik Lundqvist?

Out of the Atlantic we have the Detroit Red Wings up against the Tampa Bay Lightning. With some injuries hampering their line-up at the end of the regular season, the Lightning seem a little banged up. While they may be favored it wouldn’t surprise anyone that the Red Wings are hard to beat in their 25th straight playoff appearance.

In the Western Conference we start with the Dallas Stars against the Minnesota Wild. The Stars won both the Central Division and the Western Conference for a reason. They can score. After leading the league with 267 goals in the regular season the Stars seem poised to push deep into the playoffs with their first top seed in 12 years. The Wild, on the other hand, have the worst record in the league for a playoff team plus they may have lost forwards Zach Parise and Thomas Vanek for the series. Expect a big win by Dallas.

The Anaheim Ducks face off against the Nashville Predators. The Ducks took the Pacific with a record of 46-25-11 while the Predators went 41-27-14 to clinch the first wild-card spot. The Ducks are expected to play well after leading the league in both power play and penalty kill but the Predators are reaching the playoffs for the 9th time in 12 years. Anaheim goalie, John Gibson, might be the determining factor in this series.

Long time division rivals, St. Louis Blues and Chicago Blackhawks, meet in the playoffs once again for what will surely be the most bombastic series in the Western Conference. While the Blues took 3 of their 5 regular season meetings that’s hardly enough to call for an easy win. The Blues enter the off-season with momentum and dazzling displays from their two goalies, Brian Elliot and Jake Allen, but will it be enough to stop the defending Stanley Cup champions? Look for Blackhawk netminder, Corey Crawford, to make a big difference in the outcome of this series.

Finally we come to the Pacific where second place finishers, the LA Kings, meet up with their third place rivals, the San Jose Sharks. The Sharks topped the Kings 3-1-1 in regular season play but the Kings are always better in the playoffs and look to nab that third Stanley Cup in 5 seasons.

No matter which conference or what division, the 2016 lineups look amazing. While who wins what is up in the air, one thing that can be counted on is another heart pounding post-season.

Panther Set Record

On Monday April 4th the Florida Panthers beat the Toronto Maple Leafs 4-3 for their 45th victory of the season. The win further solidifies their position atop the Atlantic while continuing the slow, tortuous death of the Leaf’s 2015-16 season. But another win and another step closer to the playoffs weren’t the only reason for celebration in Panther country Monday night. Florida also racked up its 99thpoint for a new franchise record.

The Panther franchise officially began with the 1993-94 season and the team’s ability to win was established right away. With stars like John Vanbiesbrouck, Rob Niedermayer, and Scott Mellanby the Panthers had one of the most successful inaugural seasons of any expansion team ever. With a near .500 finish they barely missed a spot in the 1994 playoffs.  Then in the 1999-2000 season the franchise record was set at 98 points, an achievement that held for 15 years.

With goals by Bjugstad, Rocco Grimaldi, and Aleksander Barkov, not to mention 22 saves by netminder Al Montoya, the Panthers held on to win after jumping to a 3-0 lead in the second period. The team hopes that surpassing the previous team record sends a clear statement that this isn’t the same team who found themselves at the bottom of the league during the 2013 season. ”Those are some tough times,” Bjugstad said. ”Losing a lot of games and it’s not fun coming to the rink a lot of times because it’s a tough environment.”
With only four playoff appearances in franchise history nobody is feeling overconfident moving into the post season though. According to right-winger Jaromir Jagr, “It’s something new for a lot of guys to make the playoffs. We’ll see how we’re going to react. It can scare us away or the other way around.” The team’s last visit was during the 2011-2012 season where they lost to the New Jersey Devils in the Quarterfinals. ”We’re at step one,” said center Nick Bjugstad. ”We keep saying step one, keep moving on, we don’t want to be satisfied.”

The Florida team does have some reason to feel confident going into the post-season though. Monday’s victory clinches home-ice advantage in the first round, which should go a long way towards helping them find their way into the later rounds. “It’s good to get the home-ice clinched tonight and the next goal is to try and get first in the division,” Florida head coach Gerard Gallant said.

In the meantime the team continues to build momentum and prepare themselves for the post season. No matter what happens though, they can honestly say that this was their best year in franchise history.