The Panthers have officially been eliminated from playoff contention now, a realization they’d known was coming for quite some time.
So what’s the motivation the final eight games, starting with Saturday’s home contest against the Montreal Canadiens?
“Winning games. It doesn’t change,” said defenseman Erik Gudbranson, who saw 19:08 of ice time and had two shots, three hits and three blocked shots Thursday against Carolina in his first game back from injury. “We need to come out with the same effort level. We want to win every single game. There’s no doubt about it. We have to.
“This is a steppingstone for next year. It’s certainly important for this locker room to go out on a good note. It’s been a tough season. We need to really push ourselves to play the best hockey we have all year. That’s our motivation.”
Saturday’s game starts a final stretch in which the Panthers will next travel to play the Devils and Islanders before returning home for five games at BB&T Center to end the regular season. Saturday’s opponent – a tradition-rich franchise currently third in the Eastern Conference – should add to the motivation of a Panthers team playing for pride.
“It’s a good test for our hockey club,” Gudbranson said. “It’s going to be up to us to come out and win our crowd over, get them going and play a full 60 minutes. [We want to] get on top of [the Canadiens] as early as possible and take care of business.”
Said goalie Dan Ellis, who will make his first start at home since coming to the Panthers at the trade deadline: “It’s always exciting whenever you play against Montreal. There’s so much tradition that goes behind it. Everywhere they go they have such a large fan base that folllows them.
“They’re a team that’s competing for playoff position. And they’re playing well right now. So it’s a good challenge for us as a team to come together and make a good push these final few games.”
Montreal native Roberto Luongo won’t get a chance to face his hometown team due to an injury suffered from Thursday’s collision with former Panther Radek Dvorak. He has been a positive presence so far in his second stint with the Panthers, Coach Peter Horachek said.
“He’s been giving our guys a lot of confidence,” Horachek said. “We had a big game in San Jose where he had 29 shots in the third period, played half the period short-handed and ended up winning.
“We’ve got a young group here. And when there’s mistakes made, he’s given them the opportunity to keep moving forward. You need the goaltender to be able to be your best player, sometimes, when you have a young team.”Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun