Four in a row at home. That's all that your average long-suffering Florida Panthers fans want. And that may be all it takes.
All year long -- and really dating back to 2008 -- the Panthers have teased at streaky excellence by winning three straight games only to lose the fourth. That happened most recently in Winnipeg when the Jets thumped them 7-0 two weeks ago. On 16 occasions since 2008, the Panthers have managed to claim victory in three consecutive games but failed to make it a well-rounded quartet the next time out. The last big winning streak was seven in a row from Mar. 2 to Mar. 16, 2008.
The dates line up, so why don't the Panthers, clinging to a one-point divisional lead with one game in hand over Washington, do everyone in South Florida and those cheering for the underdog a favor and celebrate that four-year anniversary with wins over Toronto, Boston and Buffalo?
While winning at least four straight hasn't been done in four years, it is possible. The Maple Leafs are wilting on the tree under new coach Randy Carlyle. Toronto has lost four straight and 10 of 11, plus was shut out in both of its weekend games. Florida is 3-0 against the Leafs, too, scoring five goals in each win and outscoring them 15-7 overall.
Boston and Buffalo create bigger problems. Most will cite the Bruins' 8-0 blowout two days before Christmas, but the then-injury ravaged Panthers suited up what amounted to a glorified AHL team that night. However, Florida's Jose Theodore, who blanked Carolina 2-0 Sunday for his third shutout, did record his second whitewash this season by the same score in Beantown two weeks before the Boston Massacre. The Panthers are 1-1-1 against Buffalo, having been shut out at home in the first meeting. Florida has an after-regulation loss to both clubs.
Since the organization held that July 8 press conference introducing its new Panthers, the focus has been on a quick improvement of the team without having to gut the farm system, all built around a completely new attitude. Enough credit can't be given to the new players and returning ones, or the leadership by new coach Kevin Dineen and the staff he assembled.
The quest for better talent on the ice and behind the bench has put the Panthers in position to make it into the postseason, the organization's dream. A four-game winning streak at home this week could help turn that dream into reality in a major way.
With four wins on this homestand, Florida would at worst be three points ahead of the Capitals. In fact, Panther fans will be yelling "Let's go, Jets!" when Washington travels to Winnipeg on Friday. In the best scenario -- three Cats wins, two Caps losses, including one on Long Island -- Florida would be up seven points with 11 games remaining for both teams.
Florida started the momentum against Carolina with Sunday's superb defensive effort, and it needs to have the same intensity against Toronto and Boston. If they can win those two and somehow close out the homestand with another win, it would be perhaps the biggest of the season over the Sabres on St. Patrick's Day.
Which would make folks in Washington, Winnipeg, Buffalo and Toronto green with envy.
By Bill Whitehead Florida Panthers Credentialed Correspondent Hockey Columnist Twitter: @BillWhiteheadFL Email: BillWhiteheadFL@hotmail.com
Our podcast 'RLD Hockey Talk' is LIVE every Wednesday afternoon at 1:00 ET/Noon CT. Some of our notable guests in past episodes have been Dustin Brown, Doc Emrick, John Buccigross, Dave Strader, E.J. Hradek, Elliotte Friedman and Jay Grossman.