Saturday, February 28, 2009

Panthers 2 - Devils 7

Sigh. Where to begin. Why don't I just start from the end... since that was the best part of today's game. I tried to imagine all the reasons why the Panthers would put out such a stinker. They've been on the road awhile now. They just won a big game Thursday, so a letdown was expected. One of the locker room fav's was unexpectedly sent home, the team wasn't ready. The Devils were just that much better...

The truth of it is, the better teams in the league have the defense to shut down the Panthers' aggressive offense. Watching the Boston games, the New Jersey game, even the Rangers game to an extent, the top tier teams with the better defenses have figured out how to slow down the Panthers. Here's what one, moderately hockey-savy fan sees happening...

First; the neutral zone. The Panthers love to dump and chase, forcing the other team's defense into quick decisions and creating turnovers. But once the Panthers dump the puck, there has usually been a man on a man, hat on hat, at the blue line, slowing down the forecheck. The best way to stop a fast team is to never allow them to get to full speed.

Second, move the puck. The Bruins and Devils have quicker, smarter defensemen and are moving the puck before the forecheckers are on them. They got support from a forward, creating options for the puck handling D-man.

Third, if Florida gets possession in the attacking zone, the defense has kept the puck to the outside and behind the net. Florida is great at cycling the puck, but that's all they've been able to do lately. The opposition is bringing their wingers closer to the net, meaning there is little to no room in front of the goal. Around and around the Florida forwards go, good time in the attacking zone, and rarely have they gotten a quality shot off. Despite earning a 2-1 win, they were outshot in New York 41-22. They were dominated in New Jersey 46-17. 46-17. Unsettling numbers for a team hoping to make the playoffs for the first time in 9 years. Even worse might be the timing the Cats' offense has chosen to hit the snooze button. What had become an exciting, high scoring team through January has hit a wall. During this 8 game stretch against some of the Eastern conference's best, Florida has scored just 15 goals. 15 goals in 8 games. Less then 2 goals a game. Somehow, someway, Florida has won 4 of those last 8.

On the plus side, if you can find a plus side, the Panthers don't face Boston or New Jersey for the rest of the regular season. Incredibly enough, even more good news came from around the league. The woeful Islanders and Thrashers were able to beat the Sabres and Hurricanes, respectively, to keep the Panthers in the 7th seed. The Rangers and Canadians were able to win today, extending their lead in the 5th and 6th spots, but one can't be too greedy. Especially after the Panthers' performance today. And there is no time to lick wounds, the Cats head to D.C. to take on yet another top team in the Capitals. Florida can't afford to look forward to an easing of the schedule after tomorrow's game. They need to bounce back, again, and gain 2 important points, as well as a much needed boost of confidence.

Game Day!

Afternoon Matinee edition! The Panthers visit the beautiful shores of Jersey to take on the New Jersey Devils this afternoon. Florida is in the midst of a 5 game road trip, which they have started 1-1-0. After an important, come from behind win against the Rangers on Thursday, Florida will look to win consecutive games for the first time since February 12-13th. It would be a great win over the Devils, who welcomed back Martin Brodeur in their last game, an easy win over Colorado. Brodeur will be tending the net for the Devils this afternoon.

Florida's offense has been in a bit of a funk lately. In the Panthers' last 7 games, they have scored more then 2 goals just once. Thanks to outstanding goaltending, Florida has still managed to go 4-3-0 in those 7 games. They'll need to find some offense over the weekend if they hope to keep pace in the playoff race.

An interesting development over the last couple days; Nick Boynton has been sent home due to "disciplanary actions." No further words on what actually happened, but it leads to speculation that Boynton may be on the trade block. Noah Welch will be asked to step up for the next 3 games. He's played well enough in the few chances he's gotten, so there isn't too much fear of a dropoff here.

Tomas Vokoun is still suffering from his illness\infection, so Craig Anderson may get his 3rd straight start today. Puck drops at 1:00 from the Rock.

12:07 UPDATE; Further info on the Nick Boynton situation... Apparently Boynton was benched during the final period of the Rangers game and not given enough information as to why. Boynton was understandably upset and may have overreacted, getting into a heated discussion with Pete DeBoer. DeBoer and Jacques Martin agreed that his actions warrented punishment, and he was sent home. Boynton is in the final year of his contract, which has led to thoughts of a possible trade upcoming, but with the Panthers already possibly losing one top D-man (J-Bo), I find it hard to believe they'd be willing to trade away 2 of their top 6 blueliners. But then again, who really knows...

Friday, February 27, 2009

Panthers 2 - Rangers 1

Apologies for the lateness of these post-game thoughts. I'll just attribute it to technical difficulties...

I'm not sure words can explain how giant of a win that was last night for the Panthers. Trailing 1-0 going into the 3rd period, Florida came out and dominated the final period. David Booth and Nathan Horton scored just a minute apart to claim the 2 points for the good guys. Great to see those 2 get back on the score sheet. There has been somewhat of an offensive drought lately, and the top line scorers need to get back on track.

Craig Anderson redeemed himself. After a poor outing in Boston two nights ago, Andy was called on again after Vokoun was not able to recover from his illness(es) in time. 40 saves and a W later, Andy appears to have his confidence back, and also a little bit of mine. Having a backup that you can put in the net with no fear of a letdown is huge, especially in these playoff push times.

The 5 on 3 penalty kill early in the 3rd period was huge. If you don't think that was the first step in winning this game... A 2-0 lead early in the period like that is devastating. A big PK is what they got, and the confidence gained took them to the finish line.

With last night's action, the race for the playoffs is now tighter then ever. The Panthers and Rangers are tied for 6th in the east, one point behind 5th seed Montreal. The Sabres and 'Canes are now tied for the 8th and final spot, after skating to a Carolina shoot out victory last night. So the difference between the 5th seed and being out of the playoffs is 2 points. 1 game.

The Panthers now head across the river and take on the New Jersey Devils tomorrow afternoon. Martin Brodeur made his return last night, and only posted a shut out. It's another "bring-your-A-game-or-don't-bother-showing-up" kind of matchup. New Jersey leads the Atlantic division and is 3rd in the east. Until tomorrow...

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Game Night!

Gonna keep this one brief, as I'm home sick fighting off a touch of the flu (thanks a lot, Vokoun).

The Panthers visit the most famous arena in the world, allegedly, to take on the New York Rangers in a pivotal, vital, crucial, basically important game. The Rangers have a brand new head coach, John Tortorella, who Panther fans know well from his days in Tampa. The Torts-led Rangers lost in a shootout in their first game under the new head coach. Tortorella will be making his home debut tonight.

The Panthers will be trying to put their last game behind them, as well, a 6-1 stinker in Boston. Despite that loss, the Panthers are still in the 7th seed. The playoff picture could change drastically after tonight's action. Besides the Panthers\Rangers tilt, a #6 vs. #7 matchup, the Sabres and Hurricanes meet in Raleigh, a #8 vs. #9.

Vokoun should be back in the net tonight, but is a game time decision. Apparently, he also has an ear infection along with the flu bug. The Rangers will certainly be bringing their A game, trying to impress the home crowd with their new coach. Hopefully the Panthers are ready. Puck drops at 7:00.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Panthers 1 - Bruins 6

Ouch. I guess what they say about payback is true after all...

Not much positive to take away from tonight's game. Boston dominated from the first drop of the puck to the final horn, skating away with a 6-1 win. Craig Anderson got the start in goal for the Cats, but never really showed up.

Yes, Anderson was starting his first game since February 3rd.

Yes, the first goal was a near breakaway. As Jay Bouwmeester went to gather a pass off the boards, the puck seemingly developed wings and fluttered over Jay's stick, right into the path of Patrice Bergeron. But Anderson was nowhere near making any attempt at a save. Despite Bergeron never really making a move, Andy went to the butterfly early, and the Bruin simply skated around and found the gaping corner.

Yes, the second goal was somewhat of a fluke, coming off a 3 on 1. Mark Stuart took the pass in the high slot, and whiffed on his shot. Yet Anderson was already sliding across the crease expecting a pass, so Stuart gathered himself in time to weakly poke the puck past Andy's split leg.

In Panthers' tradition, there was no quit in the boys early. Kamil Kreps found space and ripped a wrister past Tim Thomas to get the Panthers back within 1. That was the last time Florida looked like they were a part of this game.

The Bruins 3rd goal was bad. Somehow a pass from the corner found an unmarked Byron Bitz, who somehow redirected the past over Anderson and under the crossbar. Really Andy? The 4th goal was awful. An 80 foot, unscreened slap shot that Anderson kicked out straight to a waiting Bitz, who easily got his 2nd goal. The 5th was horrendous. This time, the 80 foot, unscreened slap shot beat Anderson cleanly. Game, set, match. To be honest, I turned it off at this point to focus on the Sabres and Hurricanes' games. Remember when there was a "goalie controversy" in South Florida? Everyone has bad nights. Moving on...

By the time the 3rd period started, it looked like Florida was already looking forward to the Ranger game on Thursday. Lots of coasting, lots of spectating, not a lot of "Panther hockey" going on. Give credit to the B's. They clogged the neutral zone, never allowing the Panthers' forecheckers to enter the zone with any kind of speed. Oh well. Lick your wounds, regroup, learn, and focus on the next one. No time to feel sorry for yourselves, a huge clash with the Rangers is waiting, and then a probable meeting with the returning Marty Brodeur and the Devils.

Despite the 6-1 score line, there is a bright spot tonight. Both the Buffalo Sabres and Carolina Hurricanes suffered defeats, so the Panthers remain locked up with the Sabres, and one point ahead of the 9th seed 'Canes, one point behind the NY Rangers.

The trade deadline continues to draw near... Do the Cats need to make a move? Where will Bouwmeester be on March 5th? The countdown continues...

Game Night!

The Panthers kick off a vital 5-game road trip tonight in Boston. The Panthers and B's just played days ago, so I'll keep this preview brief. The standings haven't changed much since the Cats' last game. They are still tied with Buffalo, and both teams are still just 1 point above the Carolina Tropical Storms.

Boston is returning home after a 5-game roadie of their own, and will certainly be looking to get back to their winning ways. They went 1-1-3 on their road trip. The Bruins have enjoyed giant success in their own barn, posting a 19-4-4 home record. It will take another solid, 60 minute, team effort for the Panthers to get out of Beantown with 2 points.

Tomas Vokoun sat Monday's practice out with flu symptoms. Hopefully he will be cured before the puck drops tonight, otherwise it'll be Craig Anderson 'tween the pipes. Andy hasn't played since February 3rd. Puck drops at 7:00.

UPDATE (2:39); Craig Anderson gets the start tonight.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Panthers 2 - Bruins 0

Have you ever noticed that you never see Tomas Vokoun and Clark Kent in the same room at the same time? A 41 save shutout for T-Vo against the NHL's best, including several jaw droppers. Can you become a Vezina finalist for just one outstanding month? Why not. He's got my vote. The game itself was outstanding. Even for a scoreless game through 2 periods, I was on edge all night. Great pace, great energy. For a good stretch, Florida was outplaying the Boston Bruins. They looked hungrier, more determined. There was an emotion on this team that has been unheard of, unimagined, for the Panthers in years. Had it not been for a number of post-clanging, the Panthers could have had this game in hand much earlier in the night. When Nathan Horton gets time to pick his spot, his wrist shot is nearly unstoppable. I just wish he would use it more often. He rang one of the post tonight that Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas is still looking for.

Radek Dvorak got both goals for the Cats, one short handed, and one on the back end of a superb pass from Greg Campbell. Have I mentioned how much I love this team? On any given night, if one line isn't getting the breaks, another steps up. If one guy is getting shut down, someone else gets it done. Tonight, it was Dvorak.

As solid as Vokoun was, the Panthers penalty kill should also get a nod of recognition. The B's went 0 for 6 on the PP, and Florida did a great job of keeping the play on the perimeter. The few chances the Bruins got, Vokoun was there.

Did I mention how great Vokoun was? On probably the best save of his night, he didn't even see it. "I didn't see it because I was facing the other way. I just knew that the guy was try and wrap it and I was just trying to at least put some part of my body in the way," Vokoun said. "Playing this game, you need, sometimes, really good fortune. That was definitely a lot of luck." Call it whatever you want, Tommy, that was amazing.

This morning, I called this game a "must win" for momentum and confidence's sake. As the day progressed, it became even more important for the Cats to get the W. Carolina won last night. Today, Pittsburgh and Buffalo won. Florida had to win to keep pace. They did. Buffalo and Florida are now tied with the woeful New York Rangers for 6th-8th place. Carolina is in 9th, 3 points back, Pittsburgh in 10th, 4 back. Florida still has a game in hand on all teams just mentioned.

So a great home stand, 3-2-0, against some of the best in the league. Now, let's try it on the road. Starting Tuesday, the Panthers will visit these same Bruins, then on to play the Rangers, Devils, Capitals, and Thrashers before finally returning home. If Florida can make it through this 5 game stretch without losing any ground... I'll stop there before I get my hopes too high.

Have I told you how awesome Tomas Vokoun is?

Game Night!

The Panthers close out their 5-game homestand tonight, as they take on the league leading Boston Bruins. The good news for Florida is that Boston has just 1 win in its last 5 games. The bad news is that in both team's most recent games, Boston beat up on Carolina, 5-1, and Florida was crushed, 4-0. The Bruins lead the season series, 2-0-0.

For the second time this season, I'm stamping this game with the official Cat Scratch "must-win game" sticker. But why, you ask? You see the Panthers are tied for the final playoff spot with the Buffalo Sabres. The Carolina Hurricanes are gaining quickly, and now sit just 1 point back of Buffalo and Florida, so that is certainly pressing on the minds of the Panthers. But, most importantly, and why this is a vital game, Florida sets off on a 5 game road trip against 4 of the top teams in the league. With the recent memory of the Blackhawks beating, Florida has to, has to, put out a good showing against the Bruins to have some semblance of confidence heading out on the trip. Imagine having last the last 2 games, heading out on the road thinking, "Jeez, we just lost 2 in a row to teams like this. How are we gonna handle this on the road? Carolina's gaining, we're sinking. This isn't good." That just won't work, especially with such a young team that hasn't exactly had a lot of experience in high pressure situations. Now, picture this. A young team that went 3-2-0 against some of the best teams out there, most recently a win against the best of the best. Now, they head out on the road to take on the best in their barn. "We can do this. We beat Boston, New Jersey, New York. Why should a road game be any different?"

Tonight should be a good one. A sense of urgency starting to filter into the locker room, a packed house at the BAC tonight, an actual hockey atmosphere! I can't wait! Puck drops at 7:00.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Panthers 0 - Blackhawks 4

For those of us who have not paid a lot of attention to the Chicago Blackhawks this season, welcome to your wake up call. 4-0 win over the Panthers. Florida kept it tight for the first 2 periods, trailing just 1-0 after 2, but the 'Hawks were clearly the better team. A game that got out of hand in the end, but was thoroughly exciting for the first 50 minutes. Two high paced, aggressive, offensively minded teams going at it. Chances for both sides. Good stuff.

-But... for the first time in awhile, a team looked faster and hungrier then the Panthers. The Blackhawks defense looked better then Florida's, and that's saying something. Quicker, more aggressive, Chicago took it to Florida from the drop of the puck. Florida prides itself on being the more aggressive, quicker, faster, harder working team. Tonight, they met their match. Florida never got their forecheck going. Chicago's speed wouldn't allow it. The Panthers got out of their system and started chasing, and never really got back to their style. Instead, it was Chicago who played Panthers' hockey and showed why they are one of the top teams in the league.

-It wasn't for lack of effort though. Florida had chances, but it was just one of those nights. Cristobal Huet was outstanding. On another night, Florida gets a couple bounces the other way, and it's a different game.

-A couple good quotes from DeBoer and Vokoun; ""I think we got the deserved result tonight," Panthers coach Pete DeBoer said. "I think they were the better team and that's a team that we have to bring our A-plus game against or they expose you, and they did tonight." And from T-Vo; "Obviously, you're going to play only good teams from now on," Vokoun said. "If you want to make playoffs, you've got to beat good teams too. So I don't care how good they are, I think we could have played better -- all of us. And we just didn't." So true. So true.

-The save on Nathan Horton was incredible. In one second, I'm yelling at Horton for trying the fancy pants, pretty, showy move and not shooting the puck! SHOOT IT!!!! Then I'm screaming "WOW!! HE PULLED IT OFF!! WHAT A GOAL!!" The next... silence. I couldn't believe it. That was the true end of this game.

-DeBoer pulled the goalie with 4+ minutes left down by 2. Within seconds, the Hawks get the put away empty netter. I'm not sure I understand this strategy, although I've seen it in a couple other games, too, so maybe it's the new thing. Personally, I hate it. Under 2 minutes, down by 2, sure. Take the chance. But asking your guys to score a goal before the other team gets a shot on net, with 4 minutes left... a little much for me. Oh well, if they scored, I'd be saying DeBoer is the smartest, guts filled SOB in the league.

-Kind of sort of good news from around the league tonight. Montreal and Buffalo lost, so the Panthers are in the same spot they were before tonight's game. But Carolina and Pittsburgh both won, so they are now 2 points closer to the pack. Florida will try to close out the homestand with a win Saturday when the league leading Bruins come down. From there, it's on the road for the most important road trip of the year. But first things first, Boston on Saturday.

Game Night!

Another big hockey night in South Florida, as the Chicago Blackhawks come a-knockin'. The 'hawks sit 4th in the west, 2nd in their division behind those Detroit Red Wings. Unlike previous opponents who come to Sunrise via Tampa Bay, the Blackhawks were the victors against the Bolts, and are 7-3-0 in their previous 10 road games. What better time for another team to have a bit of a letdown game?

With last night's action around the NHL, the Panthers now find themselves back in a tie for 7th with the Sabres. The Rangers managed a win against the Islanders moving them 2 points ahead of Florida, and the Canadians got a point for a shoot out loss putting them 1 point up. Florida, Buffalo, Montreal, Carolina, and Pittsburgh are all in action tonight. Needless to say, 2 points would be a huge boost for the Cats.

Florida is also catching a bit of a break, as the 'hawks will be without their leading scorer Patrick Sharp, and starting goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin. Granted, Chicago still has plenty of offensive power with youngsters Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. And their "backup" 'tender, Cristobal Huet, has plenty of experience and is a bona fide netminder. Florida will need another solid all around performance to take down the Blackhawks. Puck drops at 7:30.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Jay Bouwmeester Article

First, a personal note. This is my 100th post, and I'd like to thank everyone that's read and commented. I never really thought I'd stick this out, but I'm glad I have. It's led me other avenues and opportunities I would not have had otherwise. One of those being a contributor for The Hockey Writers. If you haven't yet, please head over and check out Good site, good features, good writers. The following article was originally posted there....

Jay Bouwmeester; 25 year old defenseman for the Florida Panthers. 6′4″, 212 lbs. Florida’s first round draft pick, 3rd overall, in the 2002 NHL draft. This season; 12 goals. 18 assists. +6.

So that’s what Florida Panthers general manager Jacques Martin has to deal with. The decision he has to make, however, is far more complex then simple stats. His team is on the verge of its first postseason appearance since 2000. Jay Bouwmeester has been an integral part of the Panthers’ success this season. He not only leads the Panthers, but the entire NHL in ice time. A solid defenseman, great 1 on 1 skill, and the speed to create counter attacks in the blink of an eye. So trading the Panthers lone All-Star might seem a bit odd. Unfortunately, it might be the only choice left.

Clearly, Jacques Martin would love to sign J-Bo long term. The latest reports have GM JM offering Bouwmeester $6.5 million a season. But Bouwmeester has continued to rebuke all offers from the Panthers. He would become an unrestricted free agent on July 1st, free to go wherever he wished, and all signs are pointing away from Florida. So with the fear of losing one of the league’s top defensemen and getting nothing in return, Martin is forced to consider a trade. The Panthers could dearly use a top line scorer. While the Panthers do get contributions from all four lines, they only have one player at the 20 goal mark, David Booth. There is no “go-to” guy. Booth is having a breakout year, no question. But other players that were being counted on to step up into the scoring role have come up short. Nathan Horton has 16 tallies on the year, on pace with his career numbers, but not what the Panthers were hoping for. Cory Stillman has just 11 marks, Richard Zednik also has 11, Radek Dvorak only 8. What has kept this team in the thick of the playoff race has been the balanced scoring and offense from the blue line. A bona fide scorer, a hard working, lunch pail carrying, get the puck in the net in any way possible kind of guy could go a long way for this team. What if Florida can attain a Milan Hedjuk? Jordan Staal? Scottie Upshall? All rumored to be on the Panthers’ radar. Someone that would provide an instant upgrade to the offense? It would obviously have to be something more then a 3rd line guy and a couple draft picks, but is it worth giving up Bouwmeester for the rest of the season?

The other option for the Panthers is to hold on to Bouwmeester, see how far this team can go this season, prove to the All-Star that this team has a bright future, with many more winning seasons to come, and hope, pray, that they can get him re-signed in the offseason. Clearly, this involves much more risk for Florida. Bouwmeester has been the consummate professional, deflecting all talk of his future with the “Anything is possible” answers, not committing to the Panthers, not talking about teams he would like to play for. If he walks, the Panthers will have lost its most important cog in the machine for nothing. But is that a risk worth taking if it means immediate success in the current season? Jacques Martin has kept relatively quiet regarding the situation, although it has become known that teams have begun pitching offers. Martin is listening. If the right deal comes along, he’ll pull the trigger. If he does not see anything he likes, Martin will hold on and do everything he can before July 1st to retain Bouwmeester’s services.

Martin will have a busy offseason, regardless. 5 other current starters for the Panthers will be UFA’s this offseason (Radek Dvorak, Ville Peltonen, Richard Zednik, Nick Boynton, Karlis Skratsins, and backup goalie Craig Anderson). Will Jay Bouwmeester be on that list? Or will he already be enjoying his summer elsewhere, looking forward to being a big fish in a big frozen pond. With only 15 shopping days left until Christmas, so to speak, all hockey eyes will be focused on Sunrise, FLA. And when was the last time you could say that?

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Panthers 4 - Devils 0

Bring them on! For one night, the Florida Panthers can say they are a serious contender in the eastern conference. They soundly beat the New Jersey Devils tonight, 4-0, the same Devils team that sits 2nd in the conference and just recently beat the top seeds in both the east and western conference. Florida out worked, out skated, and flat out out played the Devils tonight. Every line was aggressive. Every player pushed past their limits. 4 goals. 4 different scorers. A power play goal. A shut out. I am loving this team.

-The Booth, Zednik, and Horton line is awesome. Booth with the speed and energy that is impossible to match. Zednik with the vision and playmaking ability. Horton with the finishing touch. Yes, I am slowly, finally becoming a Horton fan.

-Karlis Skrastins might just be the best true defenseman on the team. It feels like he blocks 41 shots a game. His stick is always in the right place. On a team full of offensive, puck moving defensemen, Skrastins holds his own in his own zone (say that 3 times fast).
-If Richard Zednik is not the comeback player of the year, then the award needs to be discontinued. Granted, I'm biased. But he almost lost his life on the ice just over a year ago. And now he's leading this young team into places it hasn't been in nearly a decade. He stayed hot tonight, notching a crucial power play goal.

-What a great story Tomas Vokoun is becoming. Can you imagine that, at one point this season, there was a "goaltender controversy?" No disrespect to Craig Anderson, but Vokoun has been nearly unbeatable. His positioning is near flawless. He never makes a hi-light reel save, because he never has to. He makes the first stop, and either swallows the rebound, turns the puck to a safe area, or has great defensive coverage.

-Was it just me, or did it sound like there was an actual home crowd in the building tonight? With actual atmosphere?

-In other action tonight, the Hurricanes lost to the Bruins, so they are now 5 points behind the Panthers and Sabres. Speaking of the Sabres, they beat the Leafs to keep pace with the Cats. That means that there are 4 teams with 66 points, with the Rangers and Canadians joining club 66. Teams 5-8 in the standings are tied. The 4th seed Flyers are just 3 points up on the pack. And it will probably stay this tight for the rest of the year.

-For a young team, confidence is everything. And right now, these guys must be on cloud 9. 13-4-3 since January 1. Let me say that again. 13-4-3. No time to rest, however. The Chicago Blackhawks come to town Thursday. Chicago beat the Lightning tonight, so at least it won't be an angry team coming in from Tampa as has been the case lately. Until then...

Game Night!

Here we are again. A chance to move up in the standings, playing against a top tier team. The New Jersey Devils, leaders of the Atlantic Division and 2nd in the conference, visit the BAC tonight. The Devils are riding a confidence high, after beating the top two teams in the league (San Jose and Boston) in their past 2 games. Florida, meanwhile, is coming off a disappointing loss to Washington, but that was just their 3rd loss in their past 9 games.

The Panthers have another chance to jump into a tie for 4th with the Rangers and Canadians, both of which are idle tonight. The Cats are currently tied for 7th with the Sabres, who head just over the border to take on Toronto. A win tonight and the Panthers are back on the confidence bandwagon. They played the Capitals tight. They beat the Devils. This young team fees like it can do anything. A loss, and it's back to fighting it out with the 2nd tier teams, struggling to stay on top of the Carolinas and Buffalos and Pittsburghs. New Jersey has won 4 straight, 8-2-0 in their last 10. They are coming off of 2 big wins, why shouldn't they have a little let down tonight? Puck drops at 7:30.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Quick Hits

A few quick thoughts before tomorrow night's showdown with the New Jersey Devils;

-I missed the game against Washington, so I didn't have any immediate post-game thoughts. From the numbers, it looks like it was a tight game, close til the end. Good showing from the Panthers, but they still haven't proven they can handle the top teams. That Ovechkin kid might have a future in the NHL...

-Despite the loss, Florida lost virtually no ground in the playoff race. Buffalo lost to Carolina, keeping them in a tie with the Cats in 7th\8th place. The Rangers continue to hit the tank. They have lost twice in consecutive days and stay just 2 points ahead of the Panthers. One can only assume that they are trying to get Tom Renney fired at this point...

-Panthers are slowly, quietly starting to get national attention. In the latest Sports Illustrated, the Cats were given these kudos; "Two reasons the Panthers are so enjoyable to watch: 1)coach Pete DeBoer's high-octane attack fluidly incorporates star defensemen Jay Bouwmeester, and 2) the underrated energy line of Gregory Campbell, Rade Dvorak, and Ville Peltonen. That threesome scores big goals, shuts down top lines and often changes a game's momentum..." Welcome to the party, SI!

-Jay Bouwmeester is still a Florida Panther, although it's beginning to look like that might not be the case for too much longer... Talks are heating up, teams are starting to put deals together, and GM Jacques Martin is listening to offers. Stay tuned for a full Jay Bouwmeester article coming soon.

-The high-flying, division leading Devils come to town tomorrow. Full report and the usual coming in the morning. Until then...

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Game Night!

The Panthers take on division leading Washington tonight in Sunrise. These two teams met just a short week ago in D.C., where the Capitals won 3-1. It's a different story in Florida, however. While Washington sports one of the best home records in the league, 22-4-1, they are just 13-12-4 away from the Phone Booth. Meanwhile, Florida has quietly been making the BAC a tough place to play as well. The Panthers' home record sits at 15-6-5. Not too shabby.

Just in case you want someone other then Alex Ovechkin to watch tonight, Caps' defenseman Mike Green has scored a goal in 8 straight games now, an NHL record for defensemen. Last night, the Caps blasted the Bolts in Tampa, 5-1. Maybe they got all the scoring out of their system last night and we can stop Green's streak tonight.

Standings-wise, this game means plenty for the Panthers, as most games from here on out will. The Cats are currently tied for 7th with the Buffalo Sabres, who take on the Carolina Hurricanes this afternoon. The 'Canes are 3 points behind Florida and Buffalo, so it would be an important 2 points for the Cats to stay ahead of the winner of the Buffalo\Carolina matchup. Just 2 points ahead of the Panthers sit the New York Rangers, who take on the Flyers today. A Rangers loss and a Panthers win and... well you get the picture.

It's the 2nd of 5 straight home games for the Cats tonight. Unfortunately, I, myself, will not be home to take this one in, as I have my own hockey game to attend to. So those of who attending the game or watching from home, give a little extra shout for me. Special afternoon matinee today, puck drops at 5:00.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Panthers 2 - Rangers 1 (SO)

Florida Panthers fans, welcome to playoff style, high intensity hockey!

-One of my favorite games of the year. Physical, high speed, high stakes, fight filled, serious, meaningful hockey. Just imagine this game, in the postseason, no shootout, play until someone scores. Think it was intense tonight? Just imagine...

-Tomas Vokoun continues to be the savior in nets. He went through a cold stretch in late November\December, but since regaining the trust of Pete DeBoer in early January, he has responded with nothing but confidence inspiring goal tending.

-David Booth has my vote for MVP. Not only is he a leading goal scorer, he plays with a level of intensity and determination I haven't seen since Brian Skrudland and Scott Mellanby were on the ice together. I mean Booth is just awesome.

-Oh yea, Booth's linemate, Richard Zednik, is pretty good too. He scored the only goal in his shootout, and oddly enough it was his first attempt in a shootout this season. Something tells me he may be in the top 3 in any upcoming SOs.

-Karlis Skrastins is quickly becoming another personal favorite. He isn't the quickest or most offensively minded defenseman on the team, but he more then makes up for it in his own zone. He must have had at least 4 or 5 blocked shots tonight, and he just always seemed to be in the right place.

-This team is starting to excite me in ways that hasn't been done since... well I'll leave that one to the imagination. But thanks to tonight's win, the Panthers are now a full 5 points ahead of the 9th seeds, Carolina and Pittsburgh. 1 point behind the 6th seed Flyers, 2 points behind 5th and 4th seed Canadians and Rangers. Unfortunately, the schedule just gets harder from here. Division leading Washington comes to the BAC on Sunday. Hopefully the Panthers learned something from the 3-1 beating the Capitals gave the Cats last week in D.C. I, for one, can't wait. Until then...

Game Night!

What, already? The Panthers return home tonight to face the New York Rangers. Florida, fresh off a dominating 5-0 win over division rival Carolina, look to continue their recent hot streak. New York will be looking to build on a win of their own, a shootout style victory over the Washington Ovechkins. But the Rangers have lost 5 straight road games, and have struggled to score all season.

I hate to keep bringing this up with so many games left, but the Panthers are now tied for the 7th seed, and play a team tonight just 3 points ahead of them. This will be the case for the next couple weeks, and is a giant opportunity for Florida to climb not just into the playoffs, but into a more desirable seed. It can start tonight against the 5th seed Rangers.

With Tomas Vokoun stopping 42 shots last night, one would think that Craig Anderson would get the start tonight, allowing T-Vo to rest. But coach DeBoer hasn't been one to stand on tradition, and is more likely to stick with the hot hand. It will take a solid defensive effort all around to frustrate the Rangers offense. In the eastern conference, only the Ottawa Senators and New York Islanders have scored fewer goals then the Rangers this season.

Tonight kicks off an important 5 game homestand. The teams coming in will only get better, so it's important to maintain the confidence that has been built over the past few weeks. Florida is 6-2-0 since the All-Star break. Let's keep it going, boys! Puck drops at 7:30.

P.S. I'll be a little later then usual with my post-game, as I'll be attending another great Florida past time tonight... Jai Alai!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Panthers 5 - Hurricanes 0

The Panthers crushed the Hurricanes, 5-0 tonight. Awesome. Here's what went through my head afterwards;

-The score would lead one to think the Panthers dominated from beginning to end. Not so fast, my friend. Tomas Vokoun got his shut out via 42 saves. 42 shots on goal from the 'Canes. Yes, a lot of shots were from bad angles, blue line wristers and the like. The Panthers did a great job of clearing any 2nd chances and rebounds. But 42 shots is 42 shots.

-Florida scored on 4 of their first 13 shots. It's nice to finally get a goalie on his off night. Far too often, it seems, the Panthers have run up against a hot 'tender and had to fight and scrape and grind out goals. Tonight, not so much. The 'Canes defense seemed disinterested at times. The Panthers took full advantage.

-The forwards finally scored! Zednik continued his hot streak, love seeing him get hot. Horton, Campbell, Frolik, and Stewart also chipping in.

-Speaking of which... It was great to see Anthony Stewart get on the score sheet. The 4th line as a whole has been excellent. This team can roll 4 lines, and each line has as much chance as the next to put one in the net. Balance = success.

-The power play continues to struggle. 0 for 5 tonight. Too many passes, not enough shots towards the net. It feels like the Panthers are trying for the pretty, tic tac toe goals. Granted, tonight it was 5-0 after 2 periods, so that's going to happen, but did you know that you don't score on 100% of the shots you don't take?

-Don't look now, but the Panthers are tied for the 7th seed. They are 3 points back of the 4th seed. At the same time, they are 3 points ahead of 9th, so no time to rest now...

-Big week ahead. 5 game homestand. Rangers, Capitals, Devils, Blackhawks, Bruins. Oh yeah, 5 game road trip after that... visiting the Bruins, Rangers, Devils, Capitals, and Thrashers. No better time to have their confidence at an all time high.

-Sellout crowd in Raleigh tonight. It is so much more fun to play in front of a
packed house, and the Panthers certainly enjoyed it tonight. Let's try to get a few more seats filled during this upcoming homestand. Until tomorrow...

Breaking News!

It's first intermission time in Raleigh, NC. Impressive period from the Panthers. BUT; just happened to click on George Richard's blog and found some pretty big news.

Next season, the Panthers will open the season in Finland against the Chicago Blackhawks. Click here for Richard's full article.

Earlier this season, the Tampa Bay Lightning, New York Rangers, Pittsburgh Penguins, and the Ottawa Senators opened the 2008-2009 season in Europe. It was pretty cool seeing the NHL product overseas and going up against some elite European teams. While the Panthers probably don't have the international following some other teams might, it will still be nice to see the Cats get some early season attention next year.

But for now, the Cats have a playoff spot to fight for. Back to the game!

Game Night!

No questions about this one. Tonight's game might be the most important February contest the Panthers have played since pre-Y2K. The Florida Panthers and Carolina Hurricanes are separated by a single point in the standings, Florida holding the 8th and final playoff spot. Both teams come into the game riding a high. Carolina is coming off a west coast road trip that saw them take 4 of a possible 6 points, with impressive wins over San Jose and Phoenix. Florida erased a 4-1, 3rd period deficit on Tuesday night against Toronto to claim an important 2 points in overtime.

Carolina has as strong, if not stronger then the Panthers, defensive core. In their last 8 games, the 'Canes are averaging under 2 goals against a game. Meanwhile, Florida's offense has caught a spark. The Cats' have won 10 of their last 16, scoring almost 5 goals a game in those 10 W's. Richard Zednik has finally found his groove, with 5 points (3G, 2A) in his last 3 games. The 3rd period of the Toronto game saw Pete DeBoer mix up his lines, and it worked to perfection. Florida scored 4 unanswered goals in the 3rd period and OT after the changes. It'll be interesting to see who skates with who tonight. Or is it whom...

There's nothing that can really be said about this that isn't obvious. These will be two teams fighting for playoff spots up until the end of the year. They only meet once more after tonight. Either Florida will gain an incredibly important confidence boost and 3 point lead over 9th place, or Carolina will jump the Cats into that 8th seed and keep that nagging doubt in the back of the young Panthers team mind. Let's face it, not many on the Panthers' roster has played a game as important as this in years. This is still a young core of players that need to prove they can handle pressure. It's a big one, no doubt. Puck drops at 7:00.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Panthers 5 - Leafs 4 (OT)

I'm not sure what I'm supposed to say after that one. Down 4-1 with about 12 minutes left, the Panthers were done. Finished. Kaput. I was getting ready to flip to the Florida\Kentucky rivalry basketball game. But for some reason, I kept it on the Panthers. I was amused that Horton scored an easy rebound goal to make it 4-2. I was almost angry that Peltonen scored to make it 4-3. Getting my hopes up for nothing, thanks a lot, Cats. All game, they couldn't get anything going. Now, they score twice to get back within a goal, but they surely couldn't come all the way back. Where was this effort the first 50 minutes? Then it was 4-4. Zednik fighting to a rebound and tying the game. Wow. So they come all the way back, just to let down and lose the points in the end, right? Thank you, Tomas Vokoun. Overtime, great. We'll go to a shoot out and lose the bonus point. Richard Zednik. No doubt. Game over. 2 points. 8th place.

"We want people in the seats, we want people here. We're going to do everything we possibly can to make sure these last 30 games are our best." -Pete DeBoer before tonight's game.

Well, Pete. I'm not sure what more you can do to get people in the seats. All season long, it's been a team that has refused to quit, no matter the score, no matter the time on the board. There was an atmosphere in the barn that leaked through my TV for the first time in years. It probably helped there were thousands of Leafs fans egging the home team faithful after it went to 4-1, but whatever. You want fans to show up, keep putting games like this together. Well, the last 10+ minutes anyways. We'll conveniently overlook that 2nd period. For now. Try coming back from 4-1 against the teams coming up on the schedule... well you'll be making tee times by mid-April, no doubt. But there is no question that Florida should come out of this game feeling good. 2 points is 2 points. They'll look at the tape of the first 2 periods, compare it with the final 5 minutes, see the difference, and learn from it. Hard work = offense. Tenacity = goals. Laziness = 4-1 deficits.

Unfortunately, there's not much time to soak up this win. The Panthers travel up to Carolina for a mammoth contest with the Hurricanes. Florida now holds a 1 point lead over the 'Canes in the standings. And with Buffalo, New York, and Montreal all idle tonight, Florida gained a giant 2 points in the standings.

Oh yea, did you know today was the 1 year anniversary of Richard Zednik's near-death experience...?

Game Night!

The Florida Panthers will try to get back to their winning ways tonight, when the Toronto Maple Leafs come to town. These two teams met just a short week ago. In Toronto, Florida was able to come back from a 2-goal, 3rd period deficit to earn an overtime win. The Cats also gained 2 points earlier in January, skating to a 4-2 win against the Leafs.

Toronto comes into tonight's game playing some of the best hockey they have all season. Winners in 3 of their last 5, the Leafs are coming off of an impressive 5-2 victory over the Montreal Canadians. Jason Blake continues to lead the Leafs. He has 6 goals and 5 assists over his last 7 games. Florida will need to contain Blake if they hope to get a W tonight.

The Panthers' offense will also look to get back on track, and will have a good chance to do so tonight. Toronto's blue line is a bit beat up, and will be missing 3 of their top 6 d-men. Tomas Kaberle, Staffan Kromwall, and former Panther Mike Van Ryn are all out of action. Florida will need to be even more aggressive then usual, if possible, to force the more inexperienced Leafs defense into some turn overs.

A win tonight is key, not just for playoff points either. Florida sits 1 point behind 8th seed Carolina, but after tonight, the Cats hit one of the toughest stretches on the schedule of the year. Confidence needs to be high as Florida heads into the stretch, and after a pretty uninspiring effort in their last game, they need to get the full 2 points against the last team they will play that is below them in the standings for a few weeks.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Panthers Promise!

Rookie coach Pete DeBoer is doing everything imaginable to get South Florida to take notice of his Florida Panthers. The latest attempt? "Panthers Promise." Fans who purchase a 4-game Panthers Promise ticket pack will be given priority access to playoff tickets. Should the Panthers not make the playoffs, those fans will receive free tickets to 4 games next season.

"I thought it was important to let fans know, to promise them, that our team will do everything possible to be successful on the ice over the next 31 games,” said DeBoer. “We’ve made no secret of our goal to make the playoffs this year, and we want fans to get excited and support us during the stretch run.”

This is a pretty big step for a team that has not seen playoff hockey since 2000. In fact, they still are on the outside looking in. The Panthers are 1 point behind 8th seed Carolina. But from the outset, Pete DeBoer has made this his team. Florida went from a boring, slow, trapping system under Jacques Martin that few people, in Florida or elsewhere, would be willing to pay good money to watch. Now, DeBoer has his one of the hardest working teams in the league; an aggressive, speed oriented, exciting brand of hockey that is slowly drawing the attention of hockey pundits everywhere. Over the past month, the Panthers have turned into a solid team, in every sense of the word. Only the Detroit Red Wings have more players at or above the 20 point plateau then Florida. The Panthers lead the league in defensive scoring contributions. Florida defensemen have scored 37 of the Cats 146 goals, a 25% clip. 9-3-3 in their last 15, Florida has reasserted themselves into the playoff picture.

It is no secret that the fan base in Sunrise is minimal, at best. Florida has had 24 home games so far this season, and rank 26th in the league in average attendance, with just under 15,000 tickets sold per game, but are dead last in percentage of seats filled. Even with $17 "total ticket" offers every game, which include 1 ticket, free parking, $5 gas card, and a Coke combo meal, people just are not coming to the Bank Atlantic Center for hockey. Granted, the Panthers have not been putting a product on the ice worth coming out for in past seasons, but this year has changed that. Pete DeBoer has changed that, and he is not content just changing the attitude on the ice. Now, he is going after the attitude in the stands, and keeping this latest promise to the fans could go a long way in creating an actual market for hockey in the sun of South Florida.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Panthers 1 - Capitals 3

I liked doing my bullet point thoughts so much last time, I think I'll keep doing it.

-Florida lost, 3-1, to Washington. The 3rd goal was an empty netter, so Florida had a chance to steal at least a point up until the final minute, but no such luck.

-Tomas Vokoun was pulled with just under 2 minutes left (somewhere near the 1:56 mark I think). Florida was already on the PP, Washington could ice it at the empty net for free. For me, 6 on 4 just means an empty net for the other guys to take shots at with no fear of repercussions. At least wait until a minute left or so, right? I wasn't a big fan of DeBoer's decision to pull him so early, and it ended up costing the Panthers a legitimate shot at tying the game. Then again, he's an NHL coach, I'm not. Had they scored, I would have been praising his guts and wisdom to pull Vokoun that early.

-Special teams were the difference. Washington went 1 for 4 on the power play, but probably could have gone 4 for 4. Florida, on the other hand, went 0 for 4, despite having a 5 on 3 for a full minute AND a power play for the entire final 5 minutes of the game.

-Cats were outshot 39-21. By period; 15-7, 11-9, 13-5. In the final period, with Florida trailing by 1, with 5 consecutive minutes of power play time, only 5 shots got through. Maybe Florida thinks they're better then they are? They've been in 8th for more than 24 hours, maybe it got into their heads. It looked like there were far too many attempts at high skill, high risk, fancy, pretty, European style passes going on out there. Down by a goal, even on the power play, you have to get pucks to the net. This isn't a team with a lot of individual talent. "Ugly goals" will get this team far.

-As Florida begins to play tougher teams, they're going to have to get scoring from up front. Tonight's lone goal came from Keith Ballard, a defenseman. Goals from blue liners are supposed to be a bonus, a nice addition to a balanced team. Florida is unbalanced in the wrong way. The D-men are scoring much more then the forwards lately. The play behind the net and the cylcing system and the point shots are all working great, there just has to be that guy in front of the net who finishes the hard work. Horton, Peltonen, Zednik, Stillman, Weiss... they need to pick it up if this postseason dream is to continue. Frolik has become completely irrelevant since his All-Star weekend in Montreal.

-Cats get a couple days off before they host Toronto on Tuesday. I'm putting the first "must-win" stamp of the year on this one. It's the last time Florida will play a team below them in the standings for 3 full weeks (Carolina is in there, but they may or may not be below Florida when they meet). For confidence points alone, Florida must win Tuesday. Until next time...

Game Night!

The division leading Washington Capitals host the Florida Panthers tonight. The Caps, led by some guy named Ovechkin, are a tough team to beat at home. They have lost just 5 games in their own barn. The good news is that one of those losses came to the Panthers back in December.

While Washington does have a 12 point lead in the division, Florida has chances to make it a race. For some reason, the Caps and Cats have avoided each other for the first 4 months of the season, playing only once so far. This means there are 5 more meetings between the two teams from now until the end of the year. While it would be a stretch to hope for a 5-0-0 mark for Florida, they can at least gain ground and keep the Caps within sight.

These two teams are playing an almost complete opposite style of hockey. Florida is one of just three teams in the east that does not have a 40 point scorer. Washington has Alex Ovechkin, who has 37 goals. What Florida does have is a roster full of guys who contribute. There are 11 Panthers who have 20+ points, and Richard Zednik needs just one more to make it 12. The Capitals have just 8 players at the 20 point mark. But when 4 of those 8 are above the 40 point plateau, it doesn't really matter. It will be up to Florida to shut down the top 2 lines and finish the chances they get. In any event, it should be another high paced, action packed game, as both teams love to use their speed. Puck drops at 7:00 from the Phone Booth in D.C.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Off-Night Scoreboard Update

Gonna try this one more time. I know the first time I did it, every team the Panthers wanted to lose, won. But I didn't mention Carolina's game last night, and they still managed to earn the 2 points in a shootout against San Jose, so whatever. It's February and Pantherland is scoreboard watching. It doesn't happen often, so I'm gonna enjoy it.

Tonight! Buffalo (1 point ahead of Florida) is in Montreal. Pittsburgh (3 points behind Florida) is hosting Columbus. The Rangers (5 points ahead of Florida) is in Dallas. So... let's go Canadian Jacket Stars!

I'm also gonna take this opportunity to do a little self-promotion. A new hockey website is up and running, the Hockey Writers. I have been asked to be the Florida Panthers' contributor, and so far, it's going quite well. Eventually, this site hopes to have 30 writers, 1 from each team, giving their insight's into their own team and anything else hockey related that pops up. It's a good looking site, and I'm proud to be a part of it. So head on over! The link, again, is here. Until tomorrow...

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Panthers 3 - Islanders 2

Gonna try something new and keep it simple tonight, whittle tonight's game down to hopefully just a few, quick thoughts;

-Florida dominated 5 on 5, struggled on special teams which allowed New York to keep it tense until the final buzzer. 3 even strength goals for Florida, 2 power play goals for NYI. Florida went 0 for 2 on the PP, luckily it didn't hurt them.

-As the game went on, it was almost the exact opposite feeling as the win in Toronto. In Toronto, the Cats got off to a slow start, went down by 2 going to the 3rd, and woke up in time to steal the win. Tonight, Florida dominated most of the first 2 periods, got some good goals at good times, probably deserved to win, but took their foot off the gas during the final period and managed to hang on to win. It's kind of reassuring to see that the Panthers can win with whatever game they bring to the rink. Gonna need a few more periods like the first, though, with tougher competition on the schedule, starting Saturday against Washington.

-I'm still not sure why Yann Denis didn't get the start. He'd won 4 in a row, including a win over the Panthers just last week. Hmmm...

-Was nice to see Booth on the ice again. You could tell he was a half step slow, his timing a half second off, but that's to be expected when you don't skate for a week. The energy was there, as always.

-Michael Frolik seems to have lost his edge since the Young Stars game in Montreal. Hope it's not similar to the Home Run Derby slump...

-Our defense continues to lead our offense. Two goals from blue liners tonight. I'm lovin' it.

-The Panthers have a tough, tough road ahead of them. Of the 11 games left in February, only 2 are against teams below them in the standings. They have 2 against Washington, Boston, New Jersey, and the Rangers. They'll need every bit of confidence they have gathered over the past month or so.

-Good win tonight, see you Saturday...

Game Night!

Well that didn't go so well. That whole off-night scoreboard watching thing kind of back fired. The Penguins came back from a 2-goal deficit to defeat the Lightning in OT and Buffalo blew out the Leafs, 5-0. So now the Panthers sit just 1 point ahead of Carolina and Pittsburgh, and 3 points back of 7th seed Buffalo. Let's just focus on winning our own games, shall we?

The Panthers take the ice tonight against the New York Islanders. These two teams met just last Saturday, the Isles skating to a 3-1 win. That win was just the start for the recently streaking Islanders, who have won 3 games since the win over the Panthers, and come into tonight looking for an impressive 5th straight victory. New York goaltender Yann Denis should get a lot of credit, as he has allowed just one goal in 3 games of the 4 game streak, and has save percentage of .952 during the same stretch. Florida will have to do a better job of getting traffic in front of Denis is they want to beat him.

Good news for the Cats. David Booth and Tomas Vokoun have overcome the flu and should be on the ice tonight. Booth's return will be especially welcome, as Florida has looked a little lethargic, at times, without it's most aggressive and quickest forechecker the past 2 games. “We’re a forechecking, puck pressure team and nobody closes on people faster than David Booth,” DeBoer said. “His speed out there is something we miss and he’s a welcome addition back.” Unfortunately, Booth's return means one less roster spot, and personal favorite Nick Tarnasky will sit out tonight. Never-the-less, I'm expecting a solid effort tonight. There will be no surprise factor, as Florida saw what the Islanders can do if given a chance. They are at home with something to prove and playoff position to maintain. I'm lookin' forward to it, for sure. Puck drops at 7:30.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Off-Night Scoreboard Watching

In what may soon become a regular feature here at Cat Scratch, we'll take a look around the league when the Panthers are off. Real, meaningful scoreboard watching hasn't been experienced in Pantherland in years, so I'll enjoy it while I can. Last night's Panthers victory, coupled with a Pittsburgh loss AND an exciting, last minute, shorthanded game winning goal for the Canucks against Carolina that brought me out of my couch seat, now means Florida is alone in the 8th spot. Here are the standings as it concerns Florida;

7. Buffalo Sabres 57 pts
8. Florida Panthers 56 points
9. Carolina Hurricanes 55 points
10. Pittsburgh Penguins 53 points

So with the Panthers off tonight, who do we have to root for? The Sabres are in Toronto, and hopefully the Panthers were able to frustrate the Leafs enough last night that they come out with hardcore determination tonight. The Penguins host the Tampa Bay Lightning, who also came up short last night against the Islanders. It's hard to root for Tampa, but it would be nice of them to win tonight.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Panthers 4 - Leafs 3 (OT)

Larceny! Burglary! Robbery! Theft! Someone stop the Panthers at the border, they just stole 2 points from the Toronto Maple Leafs. For the first time this season, the Cats went into the 3rd period trailing and came away with 2 points. The game may as well have been called the Cory Stillman show. He had a beautiful assist on the Panthers 2nd goal, which drew Florida to within 1. Then, Stillman was in perfect position to slam home the rebound in the final minute to send the game to OT. That goal came during a 6 on 4 power play, the first and only power play for the Cats during the game. Fittingly, it was Bryan McCabe who got the game winner in OT. McCabe, who was booed heartily all night, came in with Horton on a 2-on-1 and opted to take it himself, ripping a slap shot seemingly through Toskala.

Tomas Vokoun was scheduled to start. Even through the pre-game warmups, all indications were that Vokoun would be in net. Until the sickness kicked in. Out came Craig Anderson to start the game. He was shaky, at best, the first two periods. All 3 goals, Andy probably should have been better on. A couple awful rebounds led to easy Leafs goals. But then came that deciding, final period. Anderson finally found his legs. Not only did he stop all 13 shots he faced, he made an incredible pad save against Jason Blake that tore his helmet clean off his face. It was a 3-1 game at that point, and had Blake scored, you could have tied a bow on the rest of this one. Instead, Andy kept it out, and the rest is history. Good job, Andy. When the Cats needed you most, you came through.

These kinds of games are going to happen, and it's a real confidence boost to come out on the positive side. Florida didn't exactly out play Toronto. They weren't the more deserving team. They didn't out chance or out shoot the Leafs. But they were given a chance in the 3rd period to come back, and they took full advantage of it. During these last 30 games or so, Florida will run up against a hot 'tender. They won't always play their best. But to know that they can still manage to scrape out a win is huge. The Cats return home Thursday to take on the Islanders. It should be a cheery plane ride home, getting away from the cold and gloom of Canada, coming home to beautiful South Florida, and looking forward to exacting some revenge on those Islanders. Now, can someone just find a cure for the flu so we can get Vokoun and David Booth back?

Game Night!

The Florida Panthers will try to get back in the win column tonight in Toronto against the Maple Leafs. Florida last played Saturday night, skating to a disappointing 3-1 loss to the New York Islanders. Meanwhile, the Maple Leafs will be trying to win their 3rd straight. Toronto has scored 12 goals in their previous two victories. Toronto has also given up 14 goals in their last 3 games, so there should be no lack of offense tonight.

Unfortunately, the Panthers may be without offensive leader David Booth again tonight. He missed the Cats last game with the flu and has not fully recovered. Speaking as one who also had a bout with the flu last week, it's not fun. I can't imagine playing hockey with this illness, but then again, David Booth is awesome.

As far as the overall picture goes, Florida still sits in 9th, 1 point behind Carolina for 8th, 1 point ahead of Pittsburgh. Last night, 7th seed Buffalo fell to the Anaheim Ducks, keeping the Sabres just 3 points ahead of Florida. Carolina heads cross-continent to take on the Vancouver Canucks, while Pittsburgh visits Montreal. All this scoreboard watching sure is fun, but it won't do any good if Florida starts to drop off. An important two points are on the table tonight. Puck drops at 7:30.