With the 2013 season already in full swing, the Florida Panthers will be looking to do something they haven't done in 16 years: make the playoffs for a second straight year.
After more than a decade of frustration, the Panthers finally made the playoffs last season, the franchise's fourth playoff appearance. They did so by winning the Southeast Division for the first time in their history.
With new head coach Kevin Dineen at the helm, and general manager Dale Tallon's signing spree, a new-look Panthers squad jumped from last in the division to first, with a 22-point increase over 2010-11.
The season came to a heartbreaking end with a double-overtime loss to the New Jersey Devils in the first round, but it was the club's most successful season since their run to the Stanley Cup Final in 1996.
And now that this lockout-shortened season is finally underway, the Panthers will be looking to defend their division title. They certainly got off to an excellent start, raising their banner at the opener before demolishing one of their division rivals, the Carolina Hurricanes, 5-1.
A disappointing 4-0 loss on the road against the Ottawa Senators was a less-than-ideal follow-up, and the subsequent 4-1 loss at the hands of the Montreal Canadiens was a harsh blow. Only two points from three games isn't a great start.
Still, we're just three games into the season, and a lot can happen from now until the postseason. But for now, despite the rough early patch, the Panthers should be considered favorites to reach the postseason as division champions once again. Here's why.