"Don't worry about totally shittng the bed boys, we're in!"

It’s always a little awkward and anticlimactic when a team clinches a playoff spot or some sort of regular season title while losing, but we really shouldn’t be surprised that the 2011-2012 Florida Panthers used this route (a 4-2 loss to the Capitals) to get there.

While most hockey fans credit this team for earning the franchise’s first playoff berth in 12 years (and passing the “longest playoff drought” title on to the Maple Leafs), I can’t help but shake my head at what might be the worst playoff team of my lifetime.

Forget the fact that the Panthers aren’t very good on paper. Plenty of deserving playoff teams in the past have qualified on hustle alone, and that’s commendable. What bothers me about the Panthers is that they aren’t any good on the ice either, and yet they’ll be playing playoff hockey next week, and might even be opening up at home.

In reality, Florida is a sub-.500 team. They’ve won just 37 games compared to 44 total losses between regulation, overtime and the shootout. If we omit results earned in the crap-shoot skills competition the NHL uses to decide games, or if we count those shootout results as ties (as they would have been scored in the pre-lockout era), the Panthers still come up short of .500 at 31-33-17.

And if you think goal-differential might save the Panthers’ credibility, think again. Florida’s -27 differential is by far the worst among this year’s playoff teams and is actually only better than five teams in the entire NHL.

Throw in the fact that the Panthers clinched a playoff spot while completing their fifth straight loss and top it off with the fact that Florida could have home-ice advantage in a series against a Devils team that currently has eight more points, four more regulation wins and 10 more total wins, and perhaps you can see why I find it ridiculous that this team is being celebrated as a “success story.”

Now on to the links:

  • Through a roller coaster season, the Caps have persevered (Washington Examiner). I don’t know if it’s as much that the Caps have persevered as it is that the other teams near the bottom of the Eastern Conference playoff race just folded up like tents at the end of a Canadian long weekend.
  • While the Capitals and Panthers celebrated clinching playoff spots, the Sabres and their fans had to come to grips with the fact they would come up just short…again. If you want an entertaining (and profanity laced) look at how fans responded nearly minute by minute, check out this game thread from Sabres blog, Die By The Blade. Kind of a fitting blog name for the Sabres right now, huh?
  • Thanks to their 3-1 loss to the Bruins on Thursday, the Senators’ first round playoff matchup remains a mystery. (The Ottawa Citizen). The Sens can still drop from seventh to eighth and will play either the first place Rangers or second place Bruins in the East quarterfinals. I can’t imagine anyone’s too worried about it though. After all, Ottawa has next to no pressure to perform this Spring after delighting their fans with an unexpected playoff berth.
  • The Sharks, Kings and Coyotes all clinched playoff berths after the Stars and Avalanche suffered losses (Puck Daddy). San Jose and L.A. will play for the Pacific Division title and the West’s third seed on Saturday night, with the loser finishing seventh or eighth.
  • The NHL playoff picture is now complete, except for the seeding (CBS Sports). A nice guide to what’s yet to be decided and what’s still up for grabs on Saturday night.
  • With the Avalanche being eliminated from playoff contention, the Capitals are now guaranteed a top-14 draft pick in 2012 (CBS Sports). Was Semyon Varlamov worth it?
  • Watch Brooks Orpik take out Derek Stepan with a blatant knee on knee (theScore.com). The Penguins aren’t making many friends in the last week before the post-season. Within the NHL fraternity, I’d assume the Pens are among the most hated.
  • And right on cue, John Tortorella says the Penguins are one of the most arrogant organizations after ranting about Orpik’s “cheap” and “dirty” hit on Stepan (Sporting News).
  • The Flames caught the Canucks scoreboard watching on Thursday night (Globe and Mail).
  • A nice story on Akim Aliu, who made his NHL debut for the Flames in that game (Post Media).
  • The Maple Leafs showed some positives in an overtime victory over the Lightning, but it’s hard to look past the fact they blew a tanking opportunity (Pension Plan Puppets). The Leafs still have a chance at the bottom five and the No. 1 overall selection in the draft if they lose on Saturday night and the Ducks win or if they lose in regulation and the Islanders win. I will probably never cheer harder for my team to lose than I will for the Leafs this Saturday.
  • NHL players are going to participate in an ambitious concussion research project (Yahoo! Canada Sports).
  • Some positives for the Hurricanes to cap a dreary season (NewsObserver.com).
  • According to the CBC, here are the five stories of Thursday night (cbc.ca).