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Division title, playoff run make Panthers hopeful

SUNRISE, Fla. — It was the wee hours of Friday morning when Kris Versteeg walked a few steps over to Stephen Weiss' locker in the Florida Panthers dressing room and shook his teammate's hand.

"Great season," they said to one another.

Even after a Game 7 overtime loss sent them into summer, few would argue.

The Panthers are a playoff team again, and when they reconvene for the start of next season the expectations will be deservedly higher. Florida's first postseason trip in 12 years ended with a first-round defeat to New Jersey, though even a few minutes after that game — and the season — came to a sudden end, the Southeast Division champion Panthers were already saying that they believe better days are still coming.