Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Down the Stretch They Come

The Florida Panthers kick off a 3-game home stand tonight against the Ottawa Senators. With just 6 games remaining, Florida trails 8th seed Montreal by just 1 point for the final playoff spot. The Canadiens also have a game in hand.

Despite losing a tough game to open the Panthers' recent 3-game road trip, Florida fought back and won the final 2 games of the roadie, earning 4 crucial points to keep pace with the pack. A 4-2 win over the Flyers, followed by a 6-3 win in Dallas helped keep the hope alive.

Tonight, a red-hot Senators team visits the Bank Atlantic Center. The playoffs are realistically out of reach for the Sens, and that has the team playing some loose hockey lately. Ottawa has won 10 of it's last 13 games. And with "the Big 3" (Dany Heatley, Daniel Alfredsson, and Jason Spezza), Ottawa still presents plenty of danger for the Panthers. Florida will need to play that same desperation, all-out, playoff style of hockey that was present in the last 2 games. There isn't time to have a slow start or a weak period.

Craig Anderson is in net for the Panthers'. His play backstopped the last 2 Panther wins. Let's hope the winning ways continue. In other action, Montreal hosts the Chicago Blackhawks. Both pucks drop at 7:30.

Monday, March 30, 2009

All Andy... All the Time (Until He Loses)

Thanks, as always, to George Richards, for the latest update. According to Pete DeBoer, Craig Anderson is the Panthers' goalie until he loses. That's his decision, and he's sticking to it... for now. Yes, Anderson was the winning netminder in the Cats last two games. Yes, Tomas Vokoun has given up some soft goals in recent games. But to put it so bluntly, "win and you keep your job," it begs questioning. Playing the hot goaltender has been DeBoer's mantra from day one, and PDeB is riding it to the end. Hopefully the Panthers will continue their solid play, regardless of who is in net.

And, as promised, an article about Steve Ott's hit on Greg Campbell.

Tonight, the 7th seed New York Rangers, who sit just 2 points ahead of the Panthers, play host to the New Jersey Devils. Needless to say, should the Devils prevail, Florida would have a chance to tie the NYR tomorrow night. Montreal is off tonight, and they, too, play tomorrow. Scoreboard watching is good and fun, but it's pointless if Florida doesn't continue to win. Until tomorrow...

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Pushing Forward

The Florida Panthers capped off a quick 3-game road trip with a well earned victory over the Dallas Stars. Despite sleepwalking through the first period, Florida trailed just 1-0 going to the 2nd. The Cats were outshot 15-5 in the opening frame. One can only imagine what head coach Pete DeBoer said between periods... because for the rest of the game, the Panthers appeared more energetic and more desperate then the Stars. The end result was a 6-3 win and 2 more important points.

After the first 20 minutes, I was already writing the Panthers' obituary. Too many young players, not enough talent, not enough experience in playoff-type situations. It's easy to get up and ready for the high intensity nights like the Flyers game Thursday. Bringing that same intensity to a non-conference game, against a team who is playing out the string... well that's not as easy to get up for. And the excuses were waiting for Florida tonight; the last game of a 3-games in 4-nights road trip, a physical win that last time out that gives you that good feeling... The Panthers didn't show anything that would lead you to believe that they were fighting for the playoff lives.

Which is why the response in the 2nd and 3rd periods inspire that much more hope. Cory Stillman is on a very short list of Panthers with solid playoff experience, and he is starting to show it. He got his 3rd goal in the last 4 games tonight to tie it at 1. But it wasn't enough, because just minutes later Dallas retook the lead. Again, Florida fought back. This time, Stephen Weiss got the goal on a nifty move opened Marty Turco's legs like a can opener. It was also Weiss' 3rd point in the last 2 games. And then, with just seconds remaining in the 2nd period, Nathan Horton chipped in an impossible angle rebound to give the Panthers the lead heading to the 3rd period. Kamil Kreps kept it going for the Cats early in the 3rd, beating Turco short side on a nice individual move of his own that extended the lead to 2. Then Dallas scored to make it 4-3, and all the thoughts and fears of the last few 3rd period leads the Florida has wasted came flooding in. Luckily, and impressively, the Panthers showed no signs of letting it get to them. Jay Bouwmeester found a hole in Turco's shield to regain the 2 goal lead, and then Radek Dvorak iced it with the empty netter.

To me, this is a sign of a team growing at the right time, if not a little late. The leaders, the Weisses and Hortons and Bouwmeesters have been missing for long periods of time this season. Seeing them come through in the cluth instills a bit of confidence. Then throw in a Brett McLean goal here, a Kamil Kreps goal there, and you have the team that looked so strong through early 2009. Your top line guys have to produce for you. When you add in 3rd and 4th line scoring, you get a dangerous team that is incredibly hard to play against. Back it up with strong defense and solid goaltending, and you get a team that is incredibly hard to beat. No "top line" to match your best defenders up against, no weak defensive pair to get your scorers on the ice against... Thursday in Philly and the last 2 periods tonight in Big D, that's what we got from the Panthers.

And don't think I overlooked Craig Anderson. The situation he was put in was not an easy one, by any stretch of the imagination. All he did was put up back-to-back solid performances in the most crucial of times. While he doesn't always look like the calm, collected Tomas Vokoun, he gets in the way of the puck, and that's all that really matters. Swimming through the crease on your stomach throwing appendages back towards the puck doesn't look pretty, but if the puck stays away from the twine, who cares.

Just 2 games ago, the Panthers blew a 2-goal, 3rd period lead in Buffalo. That loss seemed to be the first nail in the coffin. It was the 4th time the Panthers lost a 3rd period lead in 8 games. There were 2 tough road games coming up. There was no confidence in starting goalie Tomas Vokoun. The young Panthers looked down and out. Now, here we are. The Panthers won those 2 road games and are just 1 point behind the Montreal Canadiens for the 8th spot, and 2 points behind the Rangers for 7th. The Cats next 3 games are at home, and the first 2 have to be looked at as "must wins." Ottawa and Atlanta come to south Florida. Both teams are out of the race and playing for pride. The Panthers have to want it more, need it more. 4 of the Cats' final 6 are at home. Florida looks to have its confidence back. The goals are starting to come. The bounces have turned in Florida's favor. Got all those good feelings out of your system yet? Good, because that was last week. Now, it's just a 6 game season and you have to find your intensity and desperation all over again. Should be a fun finish.

P.S. Don't think I missed the hit on Greg Campbell... check out the Hockey Writers tomorrow for my thoughts...

Decision: It's Andy

Craig Anderson will be back in net tonight for the Panthers. It's a sign of the times for Florida. Coach Pete DeBoer doesn't have the luxury of giving his guys a game or two to find their groove again. There are only 14 points left on the table, and the Cats will need every one they can grab. That means going with the guy who can get the win. Last time out, Andy got that win. So he'll get another chance tonight. No time for second guessing.

75 Down, 7 To Go...

The Florida Panthers conclude their quick road trip tonight in Dallas, where they will hope to take advantage of a struggling Stars squad. Dallas is 0-4-1 in their last 5 games. Florida, coming off of a 4-2 win in Philadelphia, needs every win it can get, as they are trying to chase down the Montreal Canadiens for the 8th and final playoff spot.

A decision on who will start in net for the Panthers has yet to be made. It's a tough call for head coach Pete DeBoer. After Tomas Vokoun struggled in his last few starts, DeBoer turned to Craig Anderson Thursday night. Andy was sensational, making 40 saves and getting the Panthers back in the win column. With just 7 games remaining, the Panthers can't afford to wait for a goaltender to find his stride again. Knowing Vokoun, he's chomping at the bit to get back in the net and prove he is still the #1 guy. But Anderson's performance may speak for itself.

In other action tonight, Montreal hosts 10th seed Buffalo. While it would be nice to see Buffalo fall out of the race for good, there's not enough time left for Montreal to pick up any more points. The Panthers need the Habs to lose as often as possible. Of course, if Florida doesn't win, then it doesn't really matter. It's a big night, no doubt. Puck drops at 8:00.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

End Of Season Put On Hold...

Disaster avoided. Hope maintained. Inevitable delayed? The Panthers fought their way to a 4-2 win tonight against the Philadelphia Flyers. It wasn't easy. It wasn't pretty. But boy, was it huge. The Flyers came back from 1-0 and 2-1 defecits to keep the Panthers on edge until David Booth's empty netter sealed the deal.

Cory Stillman started the scoring, (on the powerplay!) skillfully deflecting a Jay Bouwmeester shot past Martin Biron. Jeff Carter answered for the Flyers, beating Craig Anderson on a 2 on 1. Just 23 seconds later, Keith Ballard and Radek Dvorak found a 2 on 1 of their own, and Dvorak was able to slam home an easy rebound. But with just 3 seconds left in the 2nd period, Jeff Carter found Scott Hartnell open in the slot, and the man of the night scored to send it to the 3rd period tied at 2. The 3rd period belonged to the Cats. Brett McLean scored the game winner on a rebound, and David Booth capped the night off.

Enough cannot be said about Craig Anderson's play tonight. Just days ago, coach Pete DeBoer told his goaltenders that it would be Tomas Vokoun in net for the rest of the season. Then last night happened, and DeBoer had a change of mind. Or rather, Vokoun forced PDeB to change his mind. In came Anderson for his first start since March 1st. 40 saves later, and Andy came away with the W. Many of those saves were not easy, either. Stops came at key times. Rebounds were controlled. Calmness maintained. Thank you, Mr. Anderson.

Unfortunately, despite Montreal's attempts to lose tonight to the Lightning, the Habs were able to take 2 points and keep their 2 point cushion over Florida. It hurts, but the Panthers put themselves in this position, needing help from other teams, but that's the way it is. Both teams are off until Saturday. Montreal has played 1 fewer game than Florida.

A solid game from the Panthers tonight, fighting through the same kind of battles that has derailed this team over the past few weeks. It's a good night, but there's no time to dance. The Cats are still in 9th, still 2 points back, and still have 7 games to go. If Florida doesn't win their own games, Montreal's actions won't matter anyway.

Desperation Leading To Panic...

The Panthers have no time to lick their wounds after last night's atrocity. Hopefully, they have put it behind them, because tonight, they face one of the eastern conference's toughest teams in the Philadelphia Flyers.

One would expect to see a pissed off Panthers team tonight. You would think that being 2 points out of a playoff spot with 8 games remaining, you might get Florida's best effort. You would think that. God only knows what we'll get. Florida has been fighting for their playoff lives for a couple weeks now, and only last night, after blowing a 3rd period lead for the 4th time in 8 games, did we see any fight in this team. Too bad it came after the game was decided. Too bad it came after the Panthers hit their lowest point of the season. At this point, I can only hope that the Cats will bring that kind of fight and passion to the rest of their games.

As for the Flyers, they are in a playoff battle of their own, although theirs is a much nicer position to be in. The Flyers are trying to fend off the Hurricanes (remember a couple weeks ago, when the 'Canes were the 9th seed, and the Panthers were 5th? Those were the days...) and the Penguins for that 4th seed and home ice for the first round. The Flyers lead 5th seed Carolina by a point, 6th seed Pittsburgh by 2. Philly has won 3 straight, including an impressive 4-2 win over the New Jersey Devils in their last game on Monday.

Puck drops at 7:00.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The White Towel Is In Hand...

...but I'm not waving yet. Call me naive. Call me an idiot. I can't deny it. But I'm trying. Tonight's collapse against the Buffalo Sabres may very well prove to be the beginning of the end for the Panthers, but I'm not ready to pack it in yet. My brain is calling me a moron, telling me this team has already made tee times for April 12. My heart says the Cats are just 2 points out still, with 8 games left, and still playing well.

"Playing well." The excuse of the runner up. The reasoning of those who couldn't cut it. "It's not devastating because we played well and we played hard," said Pete DeBoer, after the loss to Buffalo. Guess what. Here's a quote following the loss to Carolina on Monday. "We played hard, we played well." Brett McLean after the Buffalo loss; "We're playing the right way. We're still in it..." David Booth after the Carolina loss; "“That’s the type of hockey we have to play the rest of the way." Well, that's the type of hockey Florida has been playing for the past 9 games, in which they've won just twice. Maybe it's the inexperience talking. Maybe they just don't know any better.

But is this really the wrong attitude to have? Optimism in the face of defeat? A month ago, sure. Find the bright spots in tough losses. Look at the positives when things don't go your way. But not now. Not with 8 games left. This loss was devastating. This loss should have ended the way it did, with a full line brawl. Unfortunately, the Panthers also should have been playing with that kind of passion since February.

There was plenty of blame to go around tonight. Tomas Vokoun was at the top of the head coach's list. Pete DeBoer did everything short of accusing Vokoun of not shooting the puck more. "The goalie's got to close the door when you're in that situation. You know what? He didn't." Think Vokoun will get a shot at redemption tomorrow night in Philly? The blame game can also be played with the forwards. There were ample opportunites for the Panthers to put this game out of reach early. Stephen Weiss, especially, had numerous chances, and each time the puck seemed to hit Mikael Tellqvist's jersey logo. Simply put, the scorers aren't scoring, and the goaltender isn't stopping rubber. It's tough to win games like that.

Now I will try to do what I do best. Find a positive. Here's a couple, although they are admittedly very hard bright spots to find in a room that is approaching black hole darkness. The Panthers are still just two points behind 8th seed Montreal. Florida got two goals from the 4th line tonight, so if the top line guys can pick it up over the next few weeks, there could yet be some hope left. There has seemed to be a "get everything to the net, anyway possible" mindset over the last couple games. Full brawls, such as the one that ended tonight's game, have a way of bringing teams together for one final push. There is no time left for improvement or chemistry to form. You're either good enough right now, or you're watching the playoffs from the couch.

Changing Things Up

Thanks to George Richards from the Miami Herald, we now know the lines for tonight's clash. In an attempt to mix things up in the hopes of creating some sort of offense, coach Pete DeBoer is trying some new lines. Olesz-Weiss-Booth; Stillman-Horton-Zednik; CPR; Frolik-Kreps-McLean.

On paper, I like the looks of this. Olesz, Weiss, and Booth is a high speed three-way. Nothing but speed and grit on that line. Stillman with Horts and Zed adds a bit of toughness to the individual talent that Horton and Zednik can bring. CPR has been solid all season long, no reason to mess with them. And dropping Frolik to the "4th line" adds a scoring touch to the physical play of Kreps and McLean. A bit of mix and match offense. All 4 lines can score. All 4 has at least 1 player with 12 goals or more. Looks good on paper... we can only wait and see if it produces on the ice.

At this time in the season, with just 9 games to play, one would hope that lines and chemistry wouldn't be a problem. Yet, the Panthers have struggled to score over the past couple weeks, and incidentally, have struggled to win. What they've been doing hasn't worked. Hopefully tonight's lineup creates that spark that carries this team deep into April\May hockey.

On The Road Again...

After a disappointing, 5-game home stand that saw the Panthers claim just 4 of a possible 10 points, the Cats head out on a 3-game, 4-day road trip that could help decide their season. Florida is in Buffalo tonight, against a Sabres team that is fighting to stay in the playoff picture.

The Sabres are currently 7 points behind 8th seed Montreal, 5 points back of Florida. A loss to the Panthers tonight, and Buffalo is probably down and out. And last night, the Panthers got no help from the Atlanta Thrashers, who got lit up by the Montreal Canadiens. Montreal is now 2 points ahead of the Cats in 8th place. There should be two desparate teams on the ice tonight, both fighting for their playoff lives.

Puck drops at 7:00.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Good Effort, But...

The Carolina Hurricanes took 2 important points from the Florida Panthers last night. Was the loss deserved for the Panthers? Probably not. Did Carolina do enough to earn a win? Maybe. But this time of year, that doesn't really matter. Florida was unable to finish their scoring chances, and therefore have to settle for the single point.

Any points at all were in doubt until the final minutes of a tightly contested, ugly game. The Hurricanes' game plan from the opening faceoff was to neutralize Florida's speed, and they did so all night long. The result was a game fought in the trenches. The Panthers cycled the puck effectively enough, but the 'Canes kept the play on the perimeter much of the night. Florida had very few, if any, odd man rushes. It was a well played road game for Carolina, and a frustratingly solid effort from the Cats.

Should Carolina's 2nd goal have counted? Doubtful. Not only did it look like the 'Canes had about 12 guys on the ice, but the play looked suspiciously offsides as well. On the other hand, Florida got caught on a bad change of their own, and gave up a 3 on 2, that Carolina finished. But Florida got a break of their own, and were given a 5 on 3 power play with just under 5 minutes left in the game, and they were able to capitalize on that. The point earned tonight put the Panthers into a tie for the 8th and final playoff spot with Montreal. The Canadiens have played 1 fewer game, which they will make up tomorrow night.

There is no questioning Florida's effort tonight. From the first drop of the puck to Ray Whitney's game ender, the Panthers were gutting it out. If they play the remaining 9 games like they did tonight, there might still be hope in south Florida. I'm not sure whether to be excited that the Cats were able to fight through and earn a point when they were down, or to be frustrated because they just weren't good enough to get the full 2 points. Regardless, the Panthers start a vital 3-game road trip Wednesday night in Buffalo. 9 games left. Buckle up...

Hurricanes @ Panthers; the New Season

It's game 1 of the playoff push tonight for the Panthers. It's a chance to make the postseason. It is within reach. A 10 game season starts tonight against the Carolina Hurricanes.

And wouldn't you know it... it's not televised. Well, unless you forked over the $99 for NHL Center Ice (I did). How this is possible, I'm not sure. I know it has something to do with the Versus network and some NHL exclusivity rule, but I just don't get it. Early season games, sure. Pre-All Star game, ok. But during the last couple weeks of the season, where every game can affect the playoff standings? Oh well.

As for the 'Canes, they've been playing some solid hockey lately. Thanks to a 7-1-2 record over their last 10, Carolina finds itself in the 6th seed. They're 1 point behind Pittsburgh, 1 point ahead of the Rangers. Think this game is only meaningful for the Cats? Carolina's going to bring it tonight. They know Florida's fading. Nothing would make them happier then to put the first nail in the coffin.

For Florida, they are 5 points behind these Hurricanes. A win tonight would be a large one for obvious reasons. Confidence heading out on a quick but crucial road trip will be key. 2 points tonight to get them into that 8th spot would be nice.

No word on whether or not Nathan Horton will return tonight. He's been skating the past couple days, testing his repaired finger. I can't believe I'm saying this, but I think the Panthers could use his stick on the ice tonight. As much as I've ragged on Horton this season, there's no question he has been able to score of late, and nothing is needed more then goals right now.

The post-regular, pre-post season starts tonight. Puck drops at 7:30. Get a ticket, head to the game. Find a bar with Center Ice. Tune in to Randy Moller. Just do something. It's gonna be a good one (I hope...)

UPDATE A few lineup changes tonight. Nathan Horton will indeed be back, as will Nick Boynton. Steve Eminger, Anthony Stewart, and Nick Tarnasky will watch this game from the press box. Personally, I don't know that Eminger has done anything to warrant his being benched, but then again, he hasn't done anything to show he should stay in the lineup. It's a move that's probably being made just to change things up. What Florida's been doing lately hasn't worked, so let's mix it up. I hope\expect to see Boynton come out flying.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

My Heart Can't Take Much More Of This

On a night the Panthers had a chance to jump back into the top 8, Columbus ripped the rug out from under Florida's collective feet. While the Cats held onto a 1-0 lead for most of this game, that nagging feeling started creeping into the back of my mind... "We aren't going to win this game 1-0."

How right I was. With just 2:46 left in the game, Raffi "I don't sing for kids" Torres tied it up with a nifty one-timer off an even niftier saucer pass from some guy named Huselius (remember him?). Ok, fine. We'll go to OT, take the point, and pray for it to end before the shootout. Oops... Just over a minute later, with just over a minute left in the game, Torres did it again. This time, a wrist shot that never left the ice found its way between Tomas Vokoun's pads. An empty net goal later and my heart burn returned.

Florida played well tonight, no doubt. Not great, but they controlled play for good portions of time. They had plenty of time in the attacking zone, even if they didn't always get shots through. The stats say that Florida managed just 23 SOG, but they had plenty of chances. I'm not sure of the exact number of shots that missed the net or were blocked, but it's safe to say there was a plethora of them. When you face a top level netminder like Steve Mason (9 shutouts this season), you're going to squeeze the stick a little harder. You're going to try to pick out the perfect play. In reality, it's the ugly goals that get past the #1 'tenders more often then not. Rusty Olesz's goal is a perfect example. Nick Tarnasky simply threw the puck towards the front of the net, it bounced around, and Olesz was able to poke it past. The 4th line tonight had as many, if not more, scoring chances then the top lines. Why? They aren't looking to make a pretty pass (Zednik, Weiss, Dvorak... I'm talking to you). When the "talent" on this team enters the zone, they look for the neat drop pass, they look for the tic-tac-toe. When Nasty Nick gets the puck in the offensive zone, it's full steam ahead and bulldoze the puck into the net. Guess which way has been working best lately... Shoot it, shoot it again, and then shoot some more. To steal a line from my favorite movie, "You don't have enough talent to win on talent alone."

And as for the GWG... As cool and calm as Vokoun looked most of the night, that's one he needs to stop. Yes, it was a quick shot. Yes, Keith Ballard was kind of screening him. But Vokoun was ready, square to the shooter, and in position to make that save. You can't let pucks through your legs like that. Not in a game like this, at a time like that.

The only good news one could take out of tonight is that 8th seed Montreal lost again. It looks like it will be a 2-team race for the 8th and final spot. Florida, who's now lost 5 of their last 6, are trying to out-slump the Canadiens, losers of 6 in a row. The Rangers, Penguins, and Hurricanes have all found their winning ways and are starting to pull ahead. The 10th seed Sabres don't look like they have a late push in them. It will probably be between Montreal and Florida. Both teams have 10 games left. Next for Florida, Monday night against the Hurricanes. Until then.

Panthers Recap + Game Night!

Apologies. Computer still giving me issues. Have to keep it brief...

Panthers earned a big 2 points Thursday night with a 3-1 win over the Leafs. Stephen Weiss, Ville Peltonen, and Richard Zednik scored the goals. More scoring from these forwards will be needed if the Cats hope to make the playoffs.

Tonight, Florida welcomes Columbus. The Blue Jackets are in a playoff race of their own, so there should be a tough fight tonight for the 2 points up for grabs. The Jackets are 6th in the west. Florida is 9th in the east.

Again, I hopefully will be able to get back to my normal routine here in the next couple days. I know I am an important part to your daily web browsing, and during this playoff push, I'll do my best to be there for you...

Puck drops at 7:00.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Game Night

Stealing some computer time before work... let's keep it simple. With Carolina's win last night, Florida is now 3 points behind the 'Canes and Montreal Canadians for the 8th and final playoff spot. The Panthers have lost 4 straight. Lose tonight, and forget it.

There was no excuse for the pathetic effort Tuesday night. That being said, there is no excuse to come out flat tonight. You know the standings. You know what you have to do. You're playing a team that is just playing out the schedule. Lose tonight, and you can start making tee times.

Simple as that. Puck drops at 7:30.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Panthers 0 - Capitals 3

Awful. Embarrassing. Incredible. Amazing. Ridiculous.

Did I miss anything? I mean for @#$%'s sake. Losers of their last 3, you would think Florida would come out with a strong, aggressive, hard fight, right? Forget it. I'm going to do my best to forget about this one as soon as possible.

Zero @#$%ing shots in the 3rd period. ZERO. ZERO. You have to be kidding me. A desperation game. Out of the playoffs by a single point, the 8th place team has the night off. Every other team is playing, and you have to assume most of them will win. What do the Panthers do? Squadoosh. Nothing. Washington could have pulled their goalie the entire 3rd period and still posted a shutout. Unbelievable.

Can you think of a time when you thought, just maybe, the Panthers might have scored? Not me. Their best "chance" tonight came when Karlis Skrastins, the most defensive of defensemen on the roster, had a semi-breakaway. Other then that, I could have played in Washington's net and earned my first NHL shutout. Unreal.

Now to be fair, the Capitals need to be given credit. They gave a fairly lackluster effort last time out against Atlanta, a 5-1 Caps loss. Tonight, they played one of their best games in a long time. Who cares. Florida could have been playing Washington Community College, it wouldn't have mattered. What playoff race? You mean this wasn't a pre-season game in Saskatchewan?

Let's include some good news in this post, shall we? Congratulations to Martin Brodeur, who broke Patrick Roy's record tonight for most wins by a goaltender. Oh, and Carolina didn't play tonight, so Florida still trails the 8th seed by just a point. Buffalo also lost, so the Cats are still in 9th. Martin Brodeur and the New Jersey Devils host Carolina tomorrow, so us Panthers fans are hoping (praying) that the Devils can keep the 'Canes from earning any points.

Florida's next game comes Thursday against the Toronto Maple Leafs. God willing, Florida may realize they are actually in a fight for a playoff spot. All this "no reason for panic yet" talk needs to hit the shelf. It's panic time. It's all or nothing time. It's desperation time. It's ridiculous. I need a drink.

Game Night!

It's put up or shut up time for the Panthers, who sit in 9th place in the east, 1 spot and 1 point out of the playoffs. Florida has lost it's last 3 games, and while they were able to get a point in 2 of those losses, they need to start winning if they hope to get themselves back in the top 8.

Tonight, the Washington Capitals visit south Florida. The Caps played last night, a 5-1 loss to the Atlanta Thrashers. Washington had a chance to vault themselves into 2nd place last night, as they trail the New Jersey Devils by a single point. Starting goaltender Jose Theodore was pulled last night, so it's anyone's guess who will be in the crease for the Caps tonight. Normally, goalies don't start in back to back nights. But with Theodore getting an early shower, the Caps coach may want to give his #1 a chance to get his confidence back.

It's a full night in the NHL. Florida will be trying to keep pace with the pack, as all teams involved (except Carolina) are in the ice. The Rangers (+2 on Florida) are in Montreal (also +2). Florida just hoping for a regulation end to that one. Buffalo (-2) is in Ottawa. Go Sens Go. The Penguins (+4) host the Thrashers, who are on a 6-game winning streak. Let's hope the ATL makes it 7.

With just 13 games remaning, the Panthers need a full 60 minute effort tonight. Florida has to start stringing some W's together. Bryan McCabe should be back on the ice tonight, wearing the full bird cage to protect his recently repaired mug. With 7 solid defensemen now on the roster, it'll be a tough choice for Pete DeBoer on who sits out. Puck drops at 7:30.

UPDATE Nick Boynton and Anthony Stewart are the healthy scratches tonight. My thoughts? Steve Eminger better start contributing... Boynton was playing well while McCabe was out.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Techinal Difficulties...

Apologies for not getting a post up after last night's game, but my laptop has decided to crap out on me. I'm not sure how much updating I'll get to do over the next week or so, as my computer will be shipped off to the HP Technical Repair services, and will be relying on limited access to my wife's laptop and work computers.

Maybe it's for the best. Florida lost a 3-1, 3rd period lead for the 2nd time in 3 games last night. While Florida continues to pick up 1 point at a time, it's getting close to panic mode. The Panthers are now in 9th place in the east, 1 point behind 8th seed Carolina. Luckily (I guess), there won't be any movement in the standings before Florida plays next. Today was no fun for Panther fans anyways. Both the Rangers and Penguins earned 2 points, distancing themselves from Florida. It's hard to feel positive about the Panthers' postseason chances, but there are still plenty of games to play, plenty of points to be had. But the teams Florida is chasing are playing good hockey, while the Panthers picked a bad time to slump. Hopefully Tuesday will start a hot streak. Until next time... (whenever that may be)

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Game Night!

Let's keep it simple today. The Panthers are playing the Lightning. Florida is in desperate need of points. Tampa is a cellar dweller. Florida needs to win tonight. For one reason, to gain confidence. For another, to keep pace with the rest of the pack. For a 3rd, it's freaking Tampa.

Interesting development, Rusty Olesz will be back on the ice tonight. Hopefully he'll be able to contribute right away, but I don't expect to see him get much ice time. Michael Repik was returned to AHL Rochester. Too bad. I liked the 4 minutes he showed against Buffalo. Brian McCabe is still out.

Other action to be concerned with; Rangers @ Flyers. Senators @ Penguins. Thrashers @ Sabres. Devils @ Canadians. Hurricanes @ Capitals.

Puck drops at 7:00.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Panthers 1 - Sabres 3

Don't look now, Panther fans, but once again, we are on the outside looking in. After tonight's loss to Buffalo, along with other NHL action, Florida now sits 9th in the east.

And wouldn't you know it, Florida finds themselves outside of the playoff picture the night after one of their better efforts in recent memory. Just to show you what a crazy, mixed up world we live in; Florida earned a point in a shoot out loss to Pittsburgh on Tuesday, being outshot 50-21. Tonight, the Cats lost 3-1, yet looked faster, quicker, and stronger then they have in weeks. Florida held Buffalo to just 23 shots. Their reward? 0 points and 9th place.

Let's be honest. There will be games where you get a win but didn't deserve it, there will be nights when you deserved the W, but lose. Sure, Tomas Vokoun probably should have stopped that 2nd goal. But he had no right making that save on Vanek later in the 2nd period. And yea, that 3rd, coffin sealing goal in the 3rd was incredibly unlucky. But Florida had a 5 on 3 for over a minute early in the 3rd and didn't score. The power play actually looked OK tonight, controlled the puck, had a few chances, just nothing to show for it. Them's the breaks, kid.

Speaking of kids... Michael Repik may just play himself into a roster spot. He was flying, shooting first, asking questions later. He scored the lone Panthers goal. He threw his body around. I think I like him on our team. And to be fair, everyone looked 2 steps quicker tonight then on Tuesday. Zednik was all over the ice. The CPR line probably should have had a couple goals tonight. It was a solid effort, just a bad result. It happens.

Florida played well enough to win tonight. If they play more games like this one down the stretch, they should be OK. Then again, they did lose tonight... so who knows. The only thing I know for sure is that there are 14 games left for the Panthers to claim a spot in the postseason. The biggest of those 14 is the next one. The Cats return home for a 5-game homestand, starting with a
"must, must, must win" Saturday night against the lowly Tampa Bay Lightning.

Game Night!

It's hockey night! Coming to live and not on TV from Buffalo, NY! Well, not on TV for Panthers fans living in south Florida. How a game as important as this is left off the air befuddles me. It's not even a home game that local fans can attend if they want to watch. It's at these few times that I feel lucky to not live in the Panthers viewing territory and have Center Ice.

With all that being said, tonight is indeed another big game. Let's face it, every game is big when you are in the 8th and final playoff spot, leading 9th place by a point, trailing the 6th and 7th seeds by a point. Everybody is in action tonight, as well. Pittsburgh is in Columbus, go Blue Jackets. Montreal is hosting the Islanders, go Isles. The Rangers are in Nashville, come on Preds! And Carolina is in Dallas, go Stars go. Not getting 2 points tonight from the Sabres could very well be a 4 point loss.

According to George Stewart of the Herald, Michael Repik was recalled and will be on the 4th line with Brett McLean and either Tarnasky or Anthony Stewart. Hm. That means Kamil Kreps is now centering the Zednik\Booth line. Hm. As of now, I'm not a big fan of that move. I haven't really seen Kreps do anything worthwhile this season to make me think he can be productive with our 2 best scorers. Yes, Kreps scored a goal last game. Only his 4th. But hey, Pete DeBoer has seemed like he knows what he's doing. Let's hope it pays off.

For those that haven't yet heard or noticed, tonight marks the return of Richard Zednik to the site of his near fatal accident last year. It's the first time he's played in Buffalo since Olli Jokinen's skate cut his throat. Jokinen is gone. Playoff hockey is near. While I imagine it would be near impossible to not think about it, hopefully Zednik just continues his immensely successful return season and keeps on putting pucks in the net.

Puck drops at 7:00. For those that can't watch on TV, why not give world-famous Randy Moller a listen?

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Panthers 3 - Penguins 4 (SO)

You know that feeling you get when you get a birthday check from your grandparents? It's usually a lot more money then anyone else gave you. You didn't really do anything to deserve it, and you feel kind of guilty for taking it. But you know you need it and certainly aren't giving it back.

That's kind of how I felt last night after stealing a point in a shootout loss to the Penguins. The Panthers didn't derseve a point. They didn't deserve to be on the same ice as the Pens. Out shot 50-21. Fifty shots against. 5-0. Twenty-one for. Ugly. Now the Panthers are not strangers to giving up high shot totals, but usually they do a good job of keeping the shots from long range and clearing rebounds. Not tonight. It looked like the Penguins had a 45 minute power play (they actually had 6 PP's. If you're looking for something positive other then Vokoun's play, it was the penalty killers going 6 for 6 against a very potent Pittsburgh power play). There were brief stretches of pressure for the Cats, and they somehow scored 3 goals on 7 shots in the 2nd period. But Vokoun earned them the point. And in the end, that's all that really matters.

Faceoffs are another area that Florida is really hurting. Pittsburgh won 36 faceoffs, compared with just 27 for Florida. That's not an awful disparity, but it's the important ones the Florida seems to lose most often. Losing an offensive zone draw and allowing an easy clear. Losing the defensive zone faceoff and letting Pittsburgh set up right away. Only Stephen Weiss had a winning percentage in the circle. There was a reason Jacques Martin was looking for a center at the trade deadline...

One last thing before I start remembering the positives. It looked to me that Pittsburgh was simply walking across the blue line every time they controlled the puck. No backcheck pressure from the forwards, no high pressure from the defense. The Penguins rarely had to dump and chase, Florida just let them in the zone. On the other side, Florida couldn't get into the Pens zone to save their life. Save for an end to end rush from Keith Ballard or a rare turnover by Pittsburgh, Florida never seemed to set up their offense. Passes were being caught by players standing still. Movement off the puck was non-existant. Give credit to Pittsburgh, but Florida made it so much easier then it should have been in a "playoff-type" game.

Oh wait, one more thing. Florida still hasn't figure out that whole shoot out thing...

Almost forgot. Florida did get a point last night, a very important point. It was also nice seeing Nick Boynton make the most of his opportunity, getting a goal and an assist. Also nice to see Kamil Kreps step up and add his 4th goal of the year. The Panthers are now tied with Carolina for 7th\8th in the east. Pittsburgh moves ahead into 6th all by their lonesome. Montreal, overtime winners last night, is back in solo 5th. The NY Rangers are a point behind the Florida\Carolina spot. The Cats' next opponent, Buffalo, is 4 points back in 10th. Florida has to, has to, come out firing on all cylinders if they hope to get a W against a desperate Sabres team that is struggling to stay in the playoff picture.

The Panthers, like myself, have to focus on the positives, put this game behind them, and focus on getting the next 2 points tomorrow. Until then...

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Game Night!

Another colossal, gigantic, enormous game with playoff standings at stake tonight as the Florida Panthers visit the Pittsburgh Penguins. How important is it, you might ask? Florida and Pittsburgh are tied with 76 points in 7th\8th spot. Also at 76 points are the New York Rangers.

Bad news struck the Panthers locker room yesterday. For my full report, click here. The bottom line is Brian McCabe and Nathan Horton are out tonight. McCabe had surgery to repair a broken orbital bone in his right eye, Horts is out after surgery on his finger. New guy Steve Eminger will be asked to fill in for McCabe. Anyone else will be asked to step up with Horton out (Weiss, McLean, Stewart, Peltonen...).

The Penguins have won 6 straight, including a win over the Panthers less then a week ago. Florida played well for 2 periods against the Pens, then hit the wall. The Panthers know what they have to do to earn W's. Hopefully they'll actually do it tonight. Tomas Vokoun is between the pipes for the Cats. Puck drops at 7:30.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Scoreboard Day

This scoreboard watching thing isn't going so well. Teams in playoff races are desperate. Desperate teams are winning. Yesterday was painfully no different. Pittsburgh won. The Rangers won. Montreal won. If the Devil was playing, he probably would have won too.

Florida is now in the same spot they were in pre-Blues win. 1 point behind 5th seed Montreal, tied with the Rangers and Penguins. And tonight it's just going to get worse. The New York Rangers play Carolina. Argh. No matter who wins, Florida loses. All Panthers fans can do is hope it ends in regulation.

One more bad note to pass along. Nathan Horton suffered a broken finger in the game Saturday and will be out an unknown amount of time. Horton has been playing well, his line has been awesome. It hurts, no question. But it gives someone else a chance to step up (cough...McLean...cough...Weiss...cough cough).

Florida has 2 huge road games coming up. First in Pittsburgh tomorrow night, then in Buffalo on Thursday. Needless to say, the Panthers could distance themselves or find themselves on the outside looking in Friday morning. Should be fun.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Panthers 5 - Blues 3

Gonna be a quick one tonight, I'm headin' out for some celebratory drinks after David Booth's awesome night (and a friend of my wife's birthday). A hat trick for Booth and a huge win for the Panthers.
Nathan Horton also got back on the score sheet tonight. It was a solid game all around for the Booth, Horton, and Richard Zednik line. Horton may have played his best game of the year. He was looking to shoot every chance he got, something Stephen Weiss could take notice of. Maybe I just have selective vision, but Horton was firing on all cylinders, while Weiss was looking for the pass as soon as the puck was on his stick in the offensive zone.
I'm not trying to be a Debby Downer, I promise. It was a solid game. Florida seemed to fall asleep for the first 10 minutes of the 3rd period, allowing St. Louis to get a sniff of tying this game, but a beautiful effort by Richard Zednik, finished by an easy one timer for Booth's trick, and this one was wrapped. In other action, Buffalo lost, but the 'Canes continued their hot play, beating the Lightning by a gazillion. But Florida is, for the moment, alone in 5th place. Go figure. I said I'd keep this short, so I'm cutting myself off now and heading downtown. Until next time...

Game Night!

3:01 Update: Thanks to George Richards, I can now tell you who's in and out tonight. Steve Eminger gets the call on the blue line, so Nick Boynton is sitting again. Anthony Stewart is the unlucky forward, and Nick Tarnasky gets a shot back in the line up. From the 1 game I saw of Eminger, he belongs in our defense. He jumped up a few times in the rush, had a couple good shots, skated well. Why not? To me, it's closer to Boynton and Jassen Cullimore fighting for the 6th D-man spot.
Every game from here on out will be more important then the last, so I'll fore go all the "must-win" stuff and "crucial 2 points" talk. Every win will be big, every loss will hurt. With just 17 games remaining, the Panthers are one of five teams separated by 2 points. Enough said.

Tonight's opponent, the St. Louis Blues, are in a desperate situation of their own. They are just 4 points out of the final playoff spot, but no fewer then 7 teams are fighting it out. These are the tightest playoff races I can remember. The difference between 5th and 10th place in the east is 2 points. The margin between 6th and 12th in the west is just 4 points. Unreal. It should make for playoff intense hockey the rest of the way. The Blues managed to beat Tampa Bay last night, in OT, so they should be feeling good about themselves. Florida, on the other hand, lost a stinker to Pittsburgh on Thursday, so they should be brewing.

Last night's action was not friendly to Florida fans. Buffalo and Carolina both won, big. They now trail the 6th-8th pack by just 1 point. The Sabres and 'Canes go again tonight, so it's possible they could jump the 3-way tie for 8th and create their own 2-way tie, unless Florida can get a win. The 2 teams FLA is tied with, Pitt and the NYR, are off. It won't be easy for the Panthers. St. Louis is 8-3-3 since Feb. 3, and has the NHL's best record over the previous 20 games. Florida is going to have to play a full 60 minutes tonight to skate away with the W.

Tomas Vokoun starts tonight in what will be his 500th career game. Puck drops at 7:00 from a hopefully raucous BAC.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Panthers 1 - Penguins 4

For a brief moment, the Panthers looked like they had finally taken control of this game. 24 seconds later, though, it was all Pittsburgh, all the time.

After a scoreless first period in which both teams had chances, the Panthers finally broke the tie at the 17:49 mark of the 2nd period. Radek Dvorak was able to chip the puck off the post and off Penguins' goalie Marc-Andre Fleury into the net. Shortly after, Sidney Crosby split the Panthers' defense and ripped a wrister past Vokoun to send the game to the final stanza tied at 1.

The third period saw total domination by the Pens. 3 goals later and it was over. There were a couple Vokoun probably would like back, but once again was forced to face over 40 shots in the game. He made 43 saves and still lost, and a painful loss it was. Pittsburgh's win over Florida, coupled with the Rangers win on Long Island, means there's a 3-way tie for the final playoff spot. All 3 teams have 74 points, 1 point behind Montreal, 3 points ahead of Buffalo and Carolina.

Far too often tonight, the Panthers chose a tough pass instead of a shot. Stephen Weiss, in particular, comes to mind. It's hard to second guess the team's leading scorer, but more then a couple instances come to mind when he tried to feather a pass through defensemen's sticks and legs, rather then just wristing one on net and crashing. Being outshot 47-32 is becoming the norm. While most shots are long range, and most second chances are being eliminated, it's still far too easy for opponents to set up and fire away. That needs to change if this team still plans on making the playoffs.

The Panthers power play is awful. Yes, they had a surprising game in Washington on the PP, but other than that game, just dreadful. Dumping it in on the man advantage is great, if you can beat the D to the puck and gain control. Far too often, it results in an easy clear for the opposition. Tonight, and in most previous games, Florida rarely sets up. Often it's a quick, rushed shot, an easy save, and a quick clear. Again, something that needs fixing if Florida hopes to extend their season. Patience, quick puck movement are the answer,which was the reason for success in Washington. Lots of quick passes, waiting for their shot.

Bascially, 5-on-5, dump the puck, bang the defenseman, control the puck, throw it at the net and crash in after it. On the PP, enter the zone, set the screen, move the puck, find your shot, get it on net.

The good news is that of the 17 games the Panthers have left on the schedule, 10 are at home, and 13 are against teams below or even with them in the standings. The playoffs are still in sight. Tonight's game hurts, no doubt, but it's no reason to panic. Florida has bounced back after a loss well, and hopefully Saturday will be no different. It was great to see a nearly full house tonight, and an actual hockey atmosphere in the building. The Panthers welcome the St. Louis Blues to the BAC Saturday, hopefully the home crowd will be treated to a better effort and result. Until then...

Game Night!

Post-Trade deadline edition; Now that the chaos that is trade day has passed, we know that Jay Bouwmeester will be a Panther for the rest of the season. I have mixed feelings about that, but in the end, I think I'm leaning towards happy. It'll be great for our postseason chances, but long term, you have to wonder what will happen.

Anyways, the Panthers actually play some hockey on the ice tonight, and it's a big one. The 8th seed Pittsburgh Penguins come to town, as Florida returns home after their tough 5-game road trip. Some new faces should be on the ice for Pittsburgh. Veteran over-the-hiller Bill Guerin was acquired by the Pens yesterday, along with forward Craig Adams from Chicago. Pittsburgh is hoping Guerin and Adams can add some toughness to their lineup, something that's been lacking this season.

Standings-wise, tonight's game is another crucial contest as far as the playoff race is concerned. Here's what we're looking at...

5. Montreal Canadians 75 points
6. Florida Panthers 74
7. New York Rangers 72
8. Pittsburgh Penguins 72
9. Buffalo Sabres 71
10. Carolina Hurricanes 71

Tonight, the Panthers and Penguins meet. Only the Rangers are in action as well, playing the Islanders, so the Panthers have a chance to jump Montreal, or end up tied with the Penguins. Pittsburgh is hoping Sydney Crosby returns from a groin injury that's kept him out the previous 4 games (which Pitt has won). The Panthers are hoping for David Booth to come back from an upper body injury he sustained in Washington on Sunday. Let's pack the BAC tonight and welcome back Jay Bo. Should be a good one. Puck drops at 7:30.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Deadline Day: Live Blog

3:51 p.m.

Well, it looks as though Jay Bouwmeester will indeed remain in Sunrise, FL for the duration of the season. Florida did make one move today, though. It's not the Chris Neil trade, as was earlier rumored. The Panthers picked up Steve Eminger from Tampa Bay in exchange for Noah Welch and a 3rd round pick. Eminger has 4 G and 21 A for Tampa this year, and might be a sign of things to come with Nick Boynton. Welch has shown signs of potential for the Panthers, but in the end, he wasn't enough.

As for Bouwmeester, Florida "got their guy" by not trading Jay-Bo. The team's chemistry doesn't change, the makeup of this team isn't affected. In fact, one could argue that the Panthers, as a team, might feel that they came out a better team then they were at the start of the day. Keith Ballard sent a text to TSN analyst Darren Pang shortly after the 3:00 deadline passed; "Perfect." What this means for Florida in the long term is unknown. Bouwmeester has shown no signs of planning on signing with Florida, so you would have to expect him to pack his bags as a UFA on July 1st. But for the next 2 months, Jay is a Panther, and expect him to do nothing less then his best, hopefully pushing Florida deep into the postseason. The home stretch kicks off tomorrow night with a crucial game against the Penguins.

3:05 p.m.

The deadline has passed, and it looks like Bouwmeester is staying in south Florida for a few more months. Huge boost to the team. I can't imagine the positive vibes in the locker room, knowing they still have their guy. They didn't make a move and probably improved their team because of it. I'm heading home from work now, so anything that breaks over the next half hour, I'll get to later. Thanks for tuning in.

2:42 p.m.

Only 18 minutes to go and still no further word on a Chris Neil deal. Personally, I don't see a reason to make a move for Neil, unless it's for a low draft pick. Neil isn't a scorer (2 G, 4 A in 44 games), he isn't a center, he hasn't played in a month due to a calf injury. He's another Wade Belak. High energy, very physical, hands of stone, skates of lead. Still waiting to get further info...

2:27 p.m.

The Florida Panthers may have finally made a move. Ottawa's Chris Neil is rumored to be headed for south Florida. I'm still trying to find out for who. It's not Jay-Bo, but who....? Working on it...

2:11 p.m.

Apparently the price tag for Guerin was a draft pick, either a 5th or 3rd, depending on post season play. For a pick, Guerin could have fit in well in Florida. Gritty, tough guy, never afraid to muck out the ugly goals, and more importantly, a veteran center... Oh well. I guess JM has his mind on other things...

2:05 p.m.

Another aging vet has escaped the cellar and gone to a potential playoff team. Bill Guerin has gone from the Islanders to the Penguins. No word yet on what Pittsburgh sent back, but this adds a little size and grit to the Penguins scoring lines. Guerin is a guy who's been there and done that, probably a few times, and should help Pittsburgh make a push for the postseason. I can only imagine how excited he is to get off Long Island...

1:33 p.m.

Mark Recchi has escaped from Tampa Bay, heading to from bottom to top as the Boston Bruins exchanged 2 prospects for Recchi. Boston and Calgary have been the busiest two teams today, both looking to shore up their roster for a deep run. Recchi adds instant veteran leadership and Stanley Cup experience to the Bruins.

I've also heard unconfirmed reports that Toronto has dealt forward Dominic Moore to Chicago. Chicago is another team in the west that are trying to keep pace with the Flames, Sharks, and Red Wings. Panthers' fans remember the shut out that the Blackhawks dealt to the Cats not too long ago. They look good and could also be a contender in the west, although the top 3 teams will be hard to beat.

12:40 p.m.

Looks like Olli Jokinen and Mike Keenan will be reunited. The Flames picked up Olli for a couple youngsters and a draft pick. Calgary is looking pretty good to make a run in the west. Jokinen, Camilleri, and Iginla is a scary thought, and adding Leopold on the blue line makes the Flames a serious contender, no doubts. Olli will finally get a shot at the postseason. If he's able to mesh in this locker room (which has been a problem with Olli on previous teams), this team goes deep.

Boston acquired Steve Montador from Anaheim for Petteri Nokalainen. A move for Boston that adds another solid defender to their roster. They have been struggling the last couple games, but once the postseason hits, they will be a favorite in the east.

12:09 p.m.

Now we're cookin'! The Sabres picked up a goaltender to try to bridge the gap created by the injury to Ryan Miller. Mikael Tellqvist from Phoenix heads to Buffalo for a 4th round pick. The Sabres also signed Tim Connolly to an extension. Buffalo's had a good day, so far. It's just going to force Florida to keep playing well to stay ahead of the Sabres.

11:44 a.m.

Another small deal involving no one Florida is concerned with. Jordan Leopold is sent from Colorado to Calgary in exchange for 2 prospect defensemen and a draft pick. A solid defenseman heading to Calgary to bolster their blue line, they're looking for a deep run. The Flames are currently 3rd in the west.

11:33 a.m.

Slow start to the day, just the 1 deal to speak of. Things could pick up as the 3:00 p.m. ET deadline gets closer. On a personal note, I'm a little bit disappointed at the complete lack of attention today is getting from ESPN. Now, I didn't expect much, ESPN and the NHL aren't exactly closest of pals, but it's just a blip on the ESPN.com main page, I haven't seen any mention of it on the ESPN morning programming (Mike & Mike, First Take...). The only hockey related mention on television came when the return of Sean Avery to the Rangers was briefly discussed on First Take. Maybe deals being done will garner interest... but it's doubtful. I know the worldwide leader loves Manny, but don't you think "A-Rod Had Hip Stiffness Last Year" is a headline that could be pushed down a bit?

10:13 a.m.

A couple players thought to be trade bait might be off the market after all. Ottawa defenseman Filip Kuba just reached a new deal with the Senators, and Blues veteran Keith Tkachuk looks like he's sticking it out in St. Louis. The Blues are 4 points out of the playoffs in the western conference, but there are a multitude of teams jockeying for the final spot.

9:58 a.m.

First deal of the day, not involving the Panthers or any team the Panthers are interested in. Ottawa acquired G Pascal Leclaire and a 2nd round pick from Columbus in exchange for F Antoine Vermette. Looks like the Blue Jackets are going to ride rookie goalie Steve Mason all the way, and got a decent forward to boot. Vermette has just 9 goals and 19 assists this season, but is one of the better faceoff guys in the league.

9:16 a.m.

Off and running, perusing the rumor mills. No news yet, but be assured, if and when news breaks, I'll let you know what I think. Obviously, all the attention will be on Jay Bouwmeester. Most of the talk has been involving the Philadelphia Flyers. They have reportedly offered Joffrey Lupol and James vanRiemsdyk for J-Bo. I don't like this deal for a number of reasons. Lupol is a winger, something the Panthers aren't exactly in need of. They do need scoring, but preferably from the center position. Lupol's contract is awfuly pricey, on top of that. Also, vanRiemsdyk is a prospect. A young, talented prospect, to be sure, but Florida isn't looking to build it's future. The Cats want to win now. That deal probably, hopefully, won't be done. If the Flyers throw in a solid defenseman like Braydon Coburn or Matt Carle, it might be worth considering. But it looks like GM Martin doesn't see something that is an obvious, immediate upgrade yet. Bouwmeester could still be a Panther by days end. Stay tuned...

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Panthers 4 - Thrashers 3

The Panthers got the job done, beating the lowly Thrashers tonight, 4-3. It wasn't pretty. I wasn't a great game, by Florida standards. After the last 4 games against some of the league's best, tonight's game was hard to watch, at times. The skill level difference was painfully clear between the last 4 opponents and Atlanta. But the end result is what the Cats needed.

After yet another early goal against, the Panthers decided to participate the rest of the way and Florida controlled play for most of the night. I don't know what it is about this team, but I think every game on this recently completed road trip, the Panthers allowed the opposition to get on the board in the first couple minutes. Luckily for Florida, they were usually able to answer back.

Heading out on this trip, 3-2-0 would have been pretty lofty expectations. But that's what Florida did. On the biggest, toughest road trip of the yea, against Boston, New Jersey, New York Rangers, Washington Capitals, and Atlanta, the Panthers were above .500 and played some confidence inspiring hockey. Tonight was no different. Aggressive, first on the puck, quick shots, all add up to scoring chances and the win. It was all about second chances for the Cats. Thrashers netminder Kari Lehtonen was leaving rebounds all over the rink, and Florida capitalized. Good game, great trip.

Tomorrow is the trade deadline. A mere 18+ hours away. I'll be online all day, to be sure, and updating as the day goes on. After you hear everyone else's opinion on moves that are or are not made, be sure to come back here and get one more. It should be an interesting day...

Pre-game Afternoon Update

Tomas Vokoun should make his return tonight against the Thrashers. Craig Anderson has started the previous 4 games.

Cory Stillman should also be in the lineup tonight.

Defenseman Keaton Ellerby has been called up from AHL Rochester. While conspiracy theorists might see this as reason to believe Jay Bouwmeester has been traded, it is actually just an emergency call-up in case Jassen Cullimore needs to be with his wife, who is expecting to give birth soon. Congratulations to the Cullimores.

24 hours til the trade deadline... I don't remember a time when the trade deadline meant so much to the Panthers. I, for one, am waiting anxiously.

Game Night!

On trade deadline eve, the Florida Panthers play the final game of their 5-game road trip as they visit the ATL to take on the Thrashers. Despite their 2nd to worst standing in the eastern conference, the Thrashers have been playing better of late and are coming off of a 5-3 win over Carolina. Florida is also coming from a division win, a 6-2 beating of Washington.

Atlanta has one of the best goal scorers in the league, Ilya Kovalchuk. 13 goals and 8 assists in his last 10 games. The Panthers will have to contain him as much as possible to have a chance tonight.

Florida will be without David Booth tonight, though Cory Stillman and Tomas Vokoun should hopefully return. Booth suffered an upper body injury in the Washington game. His absence means Anthony Stewart, Brett McLean, and Nick Tarnasky should all be dressed tonight, along with Noah Welch. Lots of high energy guys going. The 4th line has been getting chances and playing with an edge the last week or so, hopefully it's just a matter of time before they start putting pucks in the net.

Standings-wise, Florida sits in 6th, tied with the Rangers, 3 points behind Montreal, and 2 points ahead of the Pittsburgh Penguins, who find themselves in the top 8 for the first time in months. Carolina and Buffalo are 1 point behind the Pens. Games to watch tonight; Carolina @ Washington. Pittsburgh @ Tampa Bay. The most important game though is ours, of course. Puck drops at 7:00.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Panthers 6 - Capitals 2

Who were those men in white jerseys? And why don't they show up more often?

The Panthers found their A-game today and took it to the division leading Capitals. I'm still a bit under the weather, so I'm gonna try to keep it brief.

3 for 3 on the power play in the first period. Where did that come from? This team's PP over the last couple weeks was horrendous. Today, there was movement, quick passes, quick shots, less thinking and more doing. How this team can completely turn things around overnight astounds me. This wasn't the first time.

Something I did notice. It looked like the Capitals were keeping their wingers closer to our point men when the Panthers were in the attacking zone, which led to more room in the middle of the zone. In past games, all the defenders were collapsing around the net, not allowing any passes or chances to come from the slot. Today, there were ample opportunities in the high percentage areas, and finally, Florida capitalized on them.

Huge plus that Craig Anderson was able to come in, during one of the toughest weeks of the season, and post a 2-1-0 record. He wasn't always at his best, but knowing you have a backup that can fill in is a huge boost of confidence. That said, I hope Vokoun gets healthy soon.

On the negative, someone has to figure out how to get this team fired up before the puck drops. 3 or 4 games in a row now, the opposition has jumped out to a very early 1-0 lead. It's fine and dandy that Florida has shown no problems coming back, but it's driving me crazy.

Somehow, some way, the Panthers managed to go 4-4-0 against the best in the league. 2 games against the #1 Bruins, #2 Capitals, #3 Devils, and the #6 Rangers each. Florida had a couple of horrible outings (6-1 and 7-2 losses), but each time bounced back the next game and got a solid W. The danger now is looking back and saying, "We did it." You have to continue to look forward. The next 5 games are just as important, if not more so, then the last 5. Atlanta has been playing well lately. 2 games against a Pittsburgh team that will be desperate to get 2 points against a team they are chasing. St. Louis is in a playoff chase of their own. And then a crucial road meeting with Buffalo. Time to dig in.

March 4th is just around the corner. Who will be here March 5th? Bouwmeester? Ballard? A new scoring threat? Pressure is growing...

Game Day!

The Panthers will hope to rebound after yesterday's awful performance. They'll have to do it against another of the league's best, though. The Washington Capitals currently sit 2nd in the east and are coming off of a hard fought, OT win over Boston yesterday.

That may be good news for the Panthers, as a let down is bound to happen for the Caps. Both teams played yesterday afternoon, so it's unknown at this point who will be in net for either team.

If Florida hopes to avoid a 2nd straight loss, they will have to find a way to get shots through. The Cats have struggled to find good scoring opportunities over the last week or so. You know Washington is going to get chances. Alex Ovechkin, Alex Semin, Nik Backstrom all know how to create goals. Florida will have to find itself defensively to create quick rushes and try to keep pace with the Caps. Hopefully this one is a little more fun to watch. Puck drops at 3:00.