A few days after the Panthers' season ended in a 3-2 double-overtime loss to the Devils in Game 7 of the opening round of the playoffs, general manager Dale Tallon admitted he was pretty happy with the way things went in his second year on the job.
Florida went from worst to first -- well, last in the Eastern Conference to a Southeast Division championship -- in one season. With a number of top prospects possibly joining the team next season, Tallon figures things are about to get interesting in South Florida.
And when it comes to possibly acquiring more talent either via trades or free agency, Tallon hopes Florida's resurgence in 2011-12 will play well with potential newcomers.
"We sent a message to everyone in the hockey world," Tallon said. "This is the place to be. Why wouldn't you want to be here? Our fans really came on in the playoffs, and were great all season long. The message has been sent that this team means business. We're going to be a championship team eventually. This is a fun place to be. This is when it gets exciting."
Watching the Devils squeak by the Panthers in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals before dropping the Flyers and Rangers en route to a berth in the Stanley Cup Finals couldn't have been easy for Tallon or the rest of the Panthers. The Devils' series was as close as it could be. One goal was the difference for the entire series. The series' winner came when Adam Henrique beat Jose Theodore 3:47 into the second overtime. Henrique then beat the Rangers in Game 6 to send the Devils to the Finals.
"It was a series that the differential through seven games was one goal. That's tough to take," Tallon said. "It was disappointing but bittersweet. We had a great season, but that was a tough one to lose. We'll use this as a motivator for next year. Our players realize how close they were and regret not scoring that goal to get us to the next series. We're not satisfied."
The Panthers were losing in the third period of a game at Washington when time was taken. Then, all of a sudden, the sold-out crowd stood up and began going crazy. The center scoreboard showed that the Flyers had eliminated the Sabres; the Capitals were in the playoffs. And so, too, were the Panthers. For the first time in 12 years, the Panthers were going to the big dance.
"Sean Bergenheim tapped me on the shoulder and pointed toward the scoreboard," said Stephen Weiss, who after 10 seasons would make his postseason debut. "I looked at Bergie and he said, 'We're in.' I just put my hands on my head. There were a lot of emotions going on."
Two days later, the Panthers beat visiting Carolina in the season finale to win the franchise's first division title.
One reason the Panthers slipped into the playoffs was their ability to extend games. Florida's 18 points from overtime/shootout losses were the most by a playoff team since the shootout came into existence in 2005-06.
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