SUNRISE, Fla. -- The Florida Panthers have been in this situation before.
They know the feeling of being on the outside of the playoff bubble at the All-Star break and the high-level calculus required to plot a far-fetched path in the standings to the playoffs.
Unlike previous seasons, though, the math is a little easier to compute this time around. The Panthers are closer to a playoff spot than they have been in eight years. As of Jan. 26, they are one point out of eighth place with two games in hand.
"Looking back on the last few years, we're in a better spot than we were." said Gregory Campbell, who has played for Florida for five seasons. "I think all the hard work that kind of put us in the position we're in now. We have to realize it wasn't easy getting to this spot and we're still kind of on the outside looking in."
The idea of "looking in" is more of a revolving door, though. Florida, Pittsburgh and Carolina have spent at least one day in the final slot over the past 10 days and none have been able to keep a firm grasp on the position. Even the Buffalo Sabres, who distanced themselves with a 3-2 shootout win over Florida on Jan. 19, were in the fray at one point.
Still, the Panthers have reason to be feeling positive about their playoff chances.
For the first time since 1999-2000, the last season Florida advanced to the postseason, the Panthers have averaged a point a game in the standings in the contests before the All-Star break. They've accomplished that feat only five times in team history, and made the playoffs in three of those seasons.
Florida has a favorable schedule down the stretch, with 20 of its final 36 games at the BankAtlantic Center. The Panthers have established themselves as a better home team this season with a 10-6-5 record at home.
Even their schedule away from home is favorable. Except for a game in Dallas in late March, the rest of Florida's road games will be held in the Eastern Time Zone.
"We've had one of the toughest schedules, if not the toughest, with the road games played and the travel," Campbell said, referring to two separate trips which took them to northwest Canada and the west coast. "Having more time at home is always beneficial for rest. In the long run, it pays off."
And there's always the March factor, the biggest variable in the formula, and the only one Florida has control over. In each of the past three seasons, the Panthers have found their stride in the final weeks of the season. Since 2005-06, Florida is 27-11-3 in the second-to-last month of the season. It was in March of last season that the Panthers matched team records for consecutive wins (seven games) and consecutive wins at home (five games).
Veteran forward Ville Peltonen was part of two of the last three teams that surged in March, and indicated Monday this year's squad is focused on matching the feat.
"We had a brief meeting and everybody knows we've got to go at it the same way, one at a time, and really prepare ourselves every game," Ville Peltonen said. "We're going to be in a rhythm where there are three or four games a week, every second night, so we've got to be ready for them."