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...