- Craig Custance
The easy move would have been to ignore history. Kevin Dineen and most of his players had nothing to do with a playoff absence that extended a dozen years. It was a drought that was in the record books and weighed down the franchise any time a playoff berth got closer.
They didn't ignore that history. To ignore the playoff drought would have been to ignore the fact they were the Florida Panthers. When Dineen accepted the job as the head coach he accepted everything that came with the position -- good and bad.
"That's part of our history. You don't deny what's happened," Dineen said. "We're the Panthers. You say things about wearing a jersey and wearing a logo, you're playing for we're acknowledging that. We know that's part of our history. We're taking pride of doing everything we can to get this thing going under Dale [Tallon's] regime in the right direction."
On Thursday night, that playoff drought chapter in Florida's history closed. This is a franchise that has been tortured by near-misses, so the Panthers don't need to apologize for the playoff clincher coming in a loss. They're in and there are 14 other NHL teams that would gladly trade places with them.
Every coach wants his team playing its best hockey of the season when the playoffs arrive and unfortunately that's not the case for Florida. The Panthers have dog-paddled their way into the postseason by piling up overtime points and their loss on Thursday to the Capitals dropped the Panthers to 2-3-5 in their last 10.
Still, this roster is loaded with playoff experience. Sean Bergenheim was one of the breakout stars of Tampa's run to the Eastern Conference finals last spring; Kris Versteeg, Brian Campbell, Tomas Kopecky and John Madden won a Cup together with the team Tallon assembled in Chicago; and Mikael Samuelsson has 92 career playoff games and won a Stanley Cup with Detroit in 2008.
"We have to get it together and play our best hockey," Samuelsson said. "Everybody wants to play good, [make the] playoffs and start a new season."
Heading into the playoffs, Craig Custance gets the lowdown on the Florida Panthers from rival players, coaches and scouts.