With the brink of playoff elimination on the line tonight, the Florida Panthers take on the still in contention New York Rangers and an old friend here at the Bank Atlantic Center. Former captain and the last number one center this team had Olli Jokinen, will be “back home” to take on his former team the Panthers. The greating Jokinen receives will be curious as he had fans as well as detractors, but one thing for sure, his career has not gone well since he left.
Losing a power struggle with former coach and GM Uncle Jack (Jacques Martin), Olli and his four 30 goal seasons and his three 70 point seasons were traded away to the Phoenix Coyotes for defencemen Keith Ballard and Nick Boynton. Ballard remains as Boynton was not resigned due to a fued with coach Peter DeBoer. Bad trade? Yes. Why? Never replaced the offence, never replaced the number one center, and lost one of the parts that came back for nothing.
However it was bound to happen as Olli and Jacques didn’t get along with each other and Olli lost the battle. Some say he tanked at the tail end of the 07-08 season. Fact of the matter is that Olli was never the same player after the accident with Richard Zednik, in which Olli’s skate cut Zednik’s throat. I don’t give a shit what anyone says, that incident had to affect him. Olli owes his career probably to former coach and GM Mike Keenan who saw something in Olli and helped mold him into the player he became while with the Panthers. If you can survive Keenan and actually be productive, you’ve got balls. Olli had them, Jacques however decided to cut them off.
It hasn’t worked out too well for Olli since he left town. Since his trade to Phoenix where he had moderate success, he was traded at last season’s deadline to the Calgary Flames in hope’s of Calgary making a strong showing in the playoffs. Olli got off to a terrific start, but fizzled out and the Flames were ousted in the first round of the playoffs. Then at this season’s deadline Olli was sent to the Rangers, and in 21 games so far has 3 goals and 10 assists for 13 points and has 48 total points on the season.
The Rangers who are in ninth place in the Eastern Conference still have a shot at making the playoffs. They beat Tampa last night 5-0 for their fourth win in five games and have scored 20 goals in that span. Led offensively by the ultra talented Marion Gaborik and his 40 goals, offence shouldn’t be a problem for New York, but at times is.
If not for goaltender Henrik Lundqvist who made 30 saves last night for his fourth shutout of the season and his second in five games, the Rangers would be out of contention all together. Lundqvist is another one of those goalies that plays solidly almost every night, but either suffers from poor defence in front of him, or lack of offensive support. Where have I heard that before?
The player I can’t stand the most in the NHL Sean Avery is listed as day-to-day with a knee injury, so at this writing I have no idea if this jerk will be in the lineup. If he is, I hope he doesn’t pull any of his bullshit. He’s due for an absolute ass kicking.
The Panthers meanwhile can be officially eliminated from the playoffs for the ninth consecutive season by losing tonight. Perfect. I get to see this in person. Once again. Scott Clemmensen is probably getting the call in goal tonight after pitching a shutout against the Boston Bruins on Thursday as he made 36 saves in the Panthers lopsided win. Keith Ballard had the lone goal in the first peri0d and Florida hung on to win 1-0 in a battle of the offensively challenged.
Little Stevie has 27 goals and 58 points as he attempts to top the 30 goal mark for the first time in his NHL life. Won’t matter now if he does, as his slump while Nathan Horton was hurt set not only him, but the Panthers back, and contributed to the falling behind in the playoff race.
Tonight’s crowd promises to be packed loaded with Ranger fans. Whooo hooo! Welcome to the sixth borough.
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P.S. if you haven’t already done so, please go to www.patburns.ca and join the group in helping Pat get into the Hockey Hall of Fame.