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Home / Articles / Columnists / Sports Feature /  Game On! Spring Playoffs To Decide Seasons
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Wednesday, May 8,2024

Game On! Spring Playoffs To Decide Seasons

By Mark Tudino  
Often when composing our monthly meeting, your scribe forgets to include the many hockey fans who live in our area – either seasonally or permanently. Well, not today. Today we focus (almost) exclusively on the men on ice – with a brief nod to the men in shorts – as their respective seasons climax with the playoffs.

For the Panthers, it’s a matter of progression. Two years ago, they had the league’s best record, only to succumb to cross-state nemesis and rivals, the Tampa Bay Lightning. Last year, as the upstart eighth seed, they had a Spring to remember, making the Stanley Cup Finals before bowing to Las Vegas in five games. If you believe, as I do, that a team must climb the step in front of it them before it climbs the whole ladder, then this team is poised to make a deep run into June. And it all starts with the goaltending.

See, like a hot baseball pitcher, a hot goalie can carry a team a long way. For Florida, it all starts with goalie Sergei Bobrovsky. “Bobs” is tied for the league lead in regular season shutouts with six, along with the net minders from Arizona and Pittsburgh. His steadiness and experience will prove invaluable as the Cats claw their way back to the Finals. He won’t be alone: Florida boasts top scoring talent with centerman Aleksander Barkov leading the way, supported by wingmen Matthew Tkachuk, Sam Reinhart, and Vladimir Tarasenko. On the back line are defensemen Aaron Ekblad, Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Gustav Forsling providing solid support for Bobrovsky. Head coach Paul Maurice has been through the playoff wars before, and like a good jockey racing his champion racehorse, he knows when to hold firepower in reserve so as to make a deep playoff push. It may well come down to a handful of games versus Boston or the hated Rangers, before we know if last year’s playoff scars have resulted in lessons learned.

As for the Cats’ winter cousins, the Heat find themselves in, unfortunately, familiar territory. Injuries, inconsistency, and frankly, uneven performances by the team’s stars left the team on the cusp of the playoffs. Begin with team leader Jimmy Butler, who at 34, may be seeing his last full season in a Heat uniform. Injuries have nagged Butler all year, but there’s been a touch of disinterest in his game at times – which may or may not be rescued by the appearance of “Playoff Jimmy,” where Butler raises his game to superstar level. Can he do it again?

The team’s fortunes probably ride on that answer. As for the other true star, Bam Adebayo always exerts maximum effort, but when facing elite competition is often outmatched physically, or forced to play out of position. Tyler Herro and newcomer Terry Rozier may help, but this version of the team may have reached the end of its run.

So, depending on whether your thing is glimmering ice or the hardwood, enjoy the playoff spectacles, South Florida. After all, you could be Washington!


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