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.

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