Slowly but surely, this team is stealing my heart. The work ethic, the determination, the style, everything has come together for the Panthers. Can you believe that in the last 29 games (since November 24), the Cats have lost just 6 times in regulation? SIX?!?! The Florida Panthers have earned at least a point in 23 of their last 29 games. Thanks to that, Florida now sits alone in 8th place in the East, just 1 point behind 7th seed Buffalo. But why stop there? The Philadelphia Flyers are the 6th seed, only 5 points above the Cats. 5th seed? Tonight's opponent? Just 6 points ahead.
Tonight's game looked eeriely similar to Tuesday's win against the Flyers for the first 2 periods. Heading into the 3rd, Florida had a 2 goal, 3-1 lead. On Tuesday, the Flyers came out in the 3rd and dominated the period. Only superb goaltending and a bit of luck allowed the Panthers to escape with the 3-2 win. Tonight, the Panthers held the 2 goal lead, but played like they were the ones trailing. Never sitting back, never letting up, the Cats exercised Coach DeBoer's relentless, mad house forecheck to perfection. The end result, an impressive 5-1 win. The Panthers thorougly outplayed a Montreal team that had every reason to expect a W tonight.
A major question mark entering the season was where the scoring would come from. Let's face it, the Panthers traded their captain and leading goal scorer last offseason. So where is the offense coming from? All over the place! I heard, during tonight's broadcast, a defining statistic. In the last 6 games, Florida has scored 16 goals from 12 different goal scorers. The defensemen contribute, the top 3 lines chip in, the 4th line grinds. Every line brings a different kind of threat. The hard working, grinding CPR line of Campbell-Peltonen-Radek Dvorak. The flashy, fleet of foot Booth-Zednik-Horton line. The all-ages-welcome line with 35 year old Cory Stillman alongside 25 year old Stephen Weiss and 20 year old Michael Frolik. Everyone works, everyone helps out. The results can be seen on the ice.
The Panthers now head out on a quick 2 game road trip, both against lesser teams. Florida closes out what has been an impressive January on Long Island, before starting February in Toronto. If Florida hopes to continue it's run towards to the postseason, they need to earn the full 2 points from teams below them. The Cats can't afford a night off. Tonight was promising, giving hope to this hardened skeptic. Let's keep it going.