SUNRISE, Fla. -- The calendar flipped a year into future and the Florida Panthers introduced a new coach and installed a familiar general manager. They welcomed six forwards who weren't with the team last March. They switched roles in both the front office and on the ice. In a way, the Panthers started over.
But before Evgenii Dadonov scored two goals to lead the Panthers to a 4-1 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday -- and regardless of the offseason changes -- Florida found itself in a familiar position. It overcame a slow start to vault into the playoff conversation. It used a hot streak after the All-Star break to swing the season.
After 62 games last season, the Panthers had 68 points. They were in 10th place in the Eastern Conference, one point out of a playoff spot heading into a game against the Flyers.
After 62 games this season, the Panthers had 68 points. They were in 10th place in the Eastern Conference, one point out of a playoff spot heading into a game against the Flyers.
This time around, the Panthers seem intent on avoiding the late-season demise that doomed them last year. The win was the sixth in a row for the Panthers and the 13th in the past 16 games. It moved them into a playoff spot, pending the rest of Sunday's results from around the league.
"I think guys are more relaxed this year," Panthers goaltender Roberto Luongo said. "I think last year was a little bit of a chaotic year to say the least. We've come together as a group. We believe in this group. Everybody's pushing in the same direction. It doesn't feel nothing like last year."
Last year, Florida began its final 20 games with a loss to Philadelphia that knocked Luongo out for the season and kick-started a five-game losing streak. The Panthers never got within five points of a playoff spot the rest of the season. They finished 14 points out of the postseason, ushering in an offseason of changes.
Bob Boughner replaced Tom Rowe behind the bench, after Rowe took over for the fired Gerard Gallant. Dale Tallon again assumed the role of general manager after a season under Rowe.
"I think we're a lot more structured than we were last year," Panthers defenseman Keith Yandle said. "We got a good base. With 18 or 19 games left, you're feeling that confident in your system and the way that your team's set up. I think it's a good thing."
Dadonov notched a multi-point game for the fourth time in the past five games, and Aleksander Barkov wowed again with a smooth backhand finish in the first period. Jonathan Huberdeau fought off a check to finish a third-period breakaway, and Luongo made 39 saves.