Friday, April 3, 2009
Pete DeBoer could only watch as his Panthers wasted what could be the last chance they had to get into the playoffs for the first time since 2000. It was heart breaking. It was agonizing. It was horribly frustrating. It was a 3-1 loss to the Atlanta Thrashers that may prove to be the final blow to the Panthers’ playoff hopes.
Last night’s loss was not about a lack of effort. It was not about being outplayed or outworked. It was simply an inability to put the puck in the net. Throw in a couple complete and total defensive breakdowns, and that’s all Atlanta needed to put this game away. Twice, Rich Peverley was able to walk through the slot. And twice, Peverley beat Craig Anderson high. Tack on an unfortunate bounce and an empty net goal, and the Panthers’ final four games may have lost all meaning.
Florida had it’s chances. The Panthers managed 36 shots on goal, but only once were able to beat Johan Hedberg. It was a loss that cannot be blamed on lack of effort, and those are the hardest to take. When you play bad and make mistakes, you know what to fix. When you play well enough to win, yet cannot get the puck in the net, you do not know where to go. Last night, Florida simply did not have enough desperation to beat Atlanta.
People around the hockey world have pointed to the Panthers’ lack of experience as the reason for the fall from playoff positioning. Yes and no. The main core of this team has little to no postseason playing time. Mainly because they have been with this franchise since they were drafted. Stephen Weiss, Nathan Horton, David Booth, and Jay Bouwmeester are vital components of this team’s success. They also combine for zero playoff games. But there is experience in the locker room. Cory Stillman owns two Stanley Cup rings, Jassen Cullimore has one. Radek Dvorak has played in two Cup finals. There are leaders on this team. Unfortunately, there are too many “character” players and not enough top line finishers for the Panthers to make a consistent run. David Booth has had a nice, breakout year (27 G, 26 A). Michael Frolik has had a successful rookie season (20 G, 21 A). But last offseason, Florida chose to address it’s pitiful defense. That has paid off, but at the cost of the offense. Maybe next season, the Cats can finally put the two together.
Yes, there is still a possibility of making the playoffs. Should the Rangers lose this afternoon against the Bruins, Florida is still just 2 points out with 4 to play. And Montreal is only 3 points ahead, but has a game in hand. The reality is that Florida would almost certainly need to finish ahead of the Rangers or Canadiens, as the first tie breaker, wins, would likely not go the Panthers’ way. (Florida has 38 W’s, Montreal and New York have 40). So, with 4 games remaining for both the Panthers and Rangers, Florida would have to be 3 points better in those 4 games. The Panthers remaining games? Pittsburgh, @ Philadelphia, @ Atlanta, Washington. Not very hopeful, even though the Rangers’ final four are @Boston, Montreal, and home and home with the Flyers.
I’ll refrain from writing any obituaries until it’s official, but tonight has drained all but the very lost drop of hope from my soul. I am really not looking forward to watching another postseason with no horse in the race. I am trying to push inevitable reality away as long as possible. Maybe tonight will bring another glimmer of light. Go Bruins