Last night, I was fortunate enough to attend the Panthers game in Tampa. Fortunate, because no one outside the St. Pete Times Forum saw an exciting comeback and shootout. The Panthers jumped out to a 3-0 lead midway through the 2nd thanks to a pair of goals from Brian McCabe and an "ugly" goal from David Booth. The Lightning came back to tie the game with goals coming from someone who hadn't yet scored this season. Two of them came through screens that Panthers netminder Tomas Vokoun never saw, and the other was a great individual effort from Vincent Lecavalier, turning Cats D-man Jassen Cullimore inside out behind the net before finding Evgeny Artyukhin in front for an easy put away. The overtime went scoreless, so on to the shootout. Vokoun came up huge turning away the first two tries against him, from St. Louis and Jussi Jokinen. Then Nathan Horton toe dragged the puck past Lightning goalie Mike Smith and fired it home. Vokoun then came up with the biggest of his 51 saves (49 in regulation\OT, 2 in the shootout) when he sent Lecavalier and the Lightning home with just 1 point.
First, the positives. The return of Brian McCabe has led to an outbreak of power play consistency. 2 for 5 last night, but its not just the goals being scored, but the maintained pressure and rhythm that is starting to show up that wasn't there in McCabe's absence. He scored the first goal of the game last night on the PP, with a rifle shot over Smith's glove. He scored his second by simply putting the puck on net through a screen, and Smith never reacted. When Cory Stillman returns to the lineup, we'll finally start to see a healthy squad and what this team is capable of. They're close, but not quite there. David Booth continues to earn his ice time, that kid just flies. One last positive? Attending an NHL game is so, so much better then watching one on TV. It's so much easier to see the flow of the game, the actual speed and creativity that just doesn't come across on TV. HD helps, but it doesn't compare to live hockey.
Now, the negatives. 52 shots on goal. 21 in the second period alone. To be fair, there may have been some home-town shot keepers at this one. A majority of the shots were unscreened, bad angle, 50 footers. Through the first 45 minutes, there were probably an even number of solid scoring chances for both sides. Vokoun looked a little shaky early, allowing some bad rebounds, but regrouped and ended up with some gigantic saves late in the game to salvage the 2 points for the Cats. Not the prettiest win, but it's 2 points. It would have been nicer not to allow Tampa to get the point, but at this point, beggars can't be choosers.
The Cats' road trip continues tomorrow night in New Jersey. Puck drops at 7, and it's on TV!