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Florida on playoff path

Panthers have missed 10 straight post-seasons

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The longer they continue to lead the NHL's Southeast Division, the less surprising the Florida Panthers are.

Which is exactly what the Panthers are trying to accomplish.

"Right now, we're not just a destination ... go put your time in at the rink and then get outside and enjoy the many offerings that south Florida has," Panthers coach Kevin Dineen said on Thursday. "I think they're very engaged in what we're trying to do and proud to put on that jersey."

The Panthers have missed the playoffs 10 straight times. As of today, it would take a nasty collapse for the streak to continue. Certainly, the Panthers, who entered Thursday's game against the Jets off three straight wins, are trending in a good direction.

"It's what it's all about, playing meaningful games this time of year," said Panthers assistant captain Stephen Weiss. "It's been a while since we've done that."

One of the reasons many are pointing to for Florida's ascension is first-year coach Dineen.

"I think (general manager) Dale Tallon has done a really good job of identifying some pretty good, quality character and kept some pieces," said Dineen, in an attempt to deflect credit. "We have a very motivated Stephen Weiss, who has played an excellent level of hockey for us.

"Probably more than anything, our defence has been fairly stable for the most part."

Other teams certainly see Dineen's excellent work and the importance of his playing career in the equation.

"He's an experienced player in the NHL, been on a few teams," observed Jets coach Claude Noel. "He would know that experience first-hand and that's something that goes unsaid. I don't have that experience of having sat in the locker-room at trade deadline, many things that he brings."

Dineen, on an amusing note, was asked Thursday if he'd agree with some of his players' assessment that he's fiery.

"I probably yap a little too much on the bench," he said with a chuckle. "I get a little excited."

-- -- --

Among the good stories for the Panthers this season is their record against Canadian teams. It was 11-2-2 heading into Thursday's contest here.

"Hopefully we can continue that trend but it's not like we do anything different playing Canadian teams," Weiss said.

Has the buzz of playing in Canadian markets assisted?

"That's certainly true, yeah," Weiss conceded. "You have a lot of guys from Canada and you come up here and it's a different atmosphere. Certainly playing in Florida is not the same hockey buzz that you get here."

But don't be too hasty to knock a less-wild hockey area such as Florida.

"I think it's nice to go in and get a flavour of it and be able to get out of it," defenceman Brian Campbell said of the buzz of playing in Canadian markets. "I'm not going to lie to you. It's nice to have it for a day but it's nice to go back (home) and not deal with it as much in Florida or other cities."

-- -- --

They've played so many important games, so many must-win games, so many biggest games of the year lately. Are the Winnipeg Jets getting numb to the thought?

"We've been in this kind of situation for 30, 40 games, that we're a few points in or out," said defenceman Ron Hainsey. "We're trying to get in the top eight, too, and it's been like that for two and a half months now. So really, it's just another day."

-- -- --

JETCETERA: The Jets saw defenceman Zach Bogosian return Thursday night. He was out seven games with a wrist injury. It was just the 12th game this season the team has had its top six defencemen in the lineup for a game...Winnipeg entered Thursday's game with the No. 1 home power play in the NHL, at 25 per cent. Edmonton was ranked second, so that tells you it's not the be-all stat in terms of overall performance. But it's interesting to note that the next 10 teams in the rankings are all in playoff spots.

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 2, 2012 C3

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