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Florida Panthers have region, fans highly optimistic about playoffs

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It was a defining moment in this already incredible season for the Florida Panthers.

Thousands of fans at the BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise Saturday night let loose with chants of "Lets Go Panthers" that rang out in unison throughout the arena.

The playoff-starved National Hockey League franchise has not created such a buzz since its days in the old Miami Arena.

The 'Cats had just won a dramatic and thrilling seven-round shootout against the Buffalo Sabres for their first four-game winning streak since 2008, and the crowd not only let its emotions run wild but the plastic rats also rained down on the ice just like the glory days in the old building downtown.

FSN Florida color analyst Bill Lindsay remembers this scene well, although the euphoria over hockey has been on the shelf since 2000 when the Panthers last made the playoffs and were immediately swept in the first round by New Jersey.

The current situation admittedly has Lindsay, who was a member of the Florida squad that reached the Stanley Cup finals against Colorado at the Miami Arena, excited about the prospects of playing past April 7.

"That's a pretty picture to look at," Lindsay said of the Eastern Conference standings that shows the Panthers solidifying their position above the line, while making it increasingly difficult for others to knock them below the line.

And while seven of Florida's last 11 games are on the road, starting Tuesday night in Philadelphia, the players are feeling good about their chances to finally reach the elusive post-season tournament.

"We have some momentum going right now,' said netminder Jose Theodore after stopping Buffalo's last-ditch attempt to tie the shootout after Dimtry Kulikov had sent a wrister past Ryan Miller for the decisive goal in the 3-2 victory against Buffalo.

John Madden, who notched his second goal in as many games, said Theodore was the difference in the outcome.

"Theo held us in there again. He played a great game," said Madden, who lit the lamp for the 'Cats along with Mikael Samuelsson in regulation.

It was the first shootout loss on the road this season for Buffalo.

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