Preview: Panthers trying to keep slim playoff hopes alive in final home game

TV: FOX Sports Sun

TIME: Pregame coverage begins at 6:30 p.m.

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SUNRISE, Fla. — As of Saturday morning, the Florida Panthers’ long-shot hope of making the playoffs is still alive.

By the time they drop the puck Saturday night for their game against the Buffalo Sabres, that flame of hope may have already been extinguished.

The Panthers (42-30-8) need the host Philadelphia Flyers (96 points, four more than Florida) to lose in regulation to the New York Rangers on Saturday afternoon. If that happens, then the Panthers would have to beat the Sabres, who have already clinched the worst record in the NHL.

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If those two things go the Panthers’ way, they would then need to beat the host Boston Bruins on Sunday afternoon in the only game on the NHL schedule and on the final day of the regular season. Even with all that, the Panthers would then have to win a tiebreaker.

Do you have all that?

It’s a bit messy and not the way the Panthers would prefer things.

“It would be nice to control our own fate,” Panthers coach Bob Boughner said. “But we don’t have that luxury.

“Let’s just hope we’re in a situation Saturday when the puck drops that we’re in position to make the playoffs.”

The Panthers are also hoping that their best player, center Aleksander Barkov, will be healthy enough to play.

With 6:51 left in Thursday’s third period against the Boston Bruins, Barkov — skating along the boards — took a hard check from Colby Cave.

It looked like Barkov, who earlier in the night scored his 100th career goal, sustained an upper-body injury, possibly to his ribcage, shoulder or elbow.

“I know the doctors are checking him,” Boughner said of Barkov, who scored his 27th goal of the season. “I don’t have any (information) right now, but it didn’t look great when he was coming off the ice.

“Talking to the ref, (it looked like Barkov) tried to turn away to shield the puck, and, at the same time, (Cave) was coming in on him. I don’t really want to make a comment on (the hit). Everybody’s playing hard at this time of year, finishing hits.

Hopefully, (Barkov) is all right.

With Thursday’s win, the Panthers tied their 1999-2000 team for the most home victories in franchise history.

The Panthers (26-11-3 at home) can break the record if they beat the Sabres, who have clinched the worst record in the NHL.

By the way, the Panthers are 3-0 against the Sabres this season, beating them 4-1 twice and also 4-2.

The Sabres, though, are not packing it in just yet. On Friday night, they put up a great fight in a 7-5 loss at the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Buffalo trailed 4-2 in the second period but scored three straight goals to take a 5-4 lead. Ultimately, the Sabres folded down the stretch.

The Sabres got goals from Casey Mittelstadt, Alexander Nylander, Jason Pominville, Jordan Nolan and Kyle Okposo. The goals by Mittelstadt and Nylander – Buffalo’s two most recent first-round picks — were the first in their NHL careers.

Even so, it was yet another defeat for the Sabres (25-44-12).

“It’s frustrating,” Sabres forward Jack Eichel told the media. “I thought we got maybe a little passive.”