When you’re 12th in the Eastern Conference as the Christmas break approaches, pretty much every game is a must win game if you have any hope of being in the playoff race come April. Saturday in Arizona, the Florida Panthers finally won a must win, closing out the Phoenix Coyotes with a 2-1 shootout win.
Scott Clemmensen stood tall in the Florida net once again, recording 40 saves, with many key ones in the waning moments of regulation and OT. Michael Frolik scored in the second period to get the Cats on the board first and then capped the shootout with a game winning backhander. For the Czech, it was his first goal since November 10, ending an eleven game drought. Martin Hanzal deflected in a shot by former Panther Ray Whitney for the lone tally for Phoenix.
This one really would have hurt had the Panthers let this one slip away. Once again, they couldn’t hold or add to a lead. And in OT, they couldn’t take advantage of two Coyote that had them playing 5-on-3 and 4-on-3 at points. In fact, Clemmer had to make a key save on a 2-on-1 breakaway for Phoenix while the Panthers had a man advantage.
A loss also would have sent the Panthers home 1-3 on the four game road trip and losers of 6-of-7. A 2-2 road trip, especially out west, sounds a little better, and I’m sure the dressing room is relieved, but the same old problems (lack of scoring/consistency, terrible PP, lack of production from 1st line) will be there when the Cats return home to play Colorado on Tuesday.
The rest of December is crucial to how the rest of the season goes. Florida plays eight games before the Christmas break, five of them on the road, including games at Washington, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, all teams who give the Panthers fits. We already know a lot about this team, we’ll know more about this season come the end of 2010.
Check out Howling Hockey for the Phoenix opinion of the game.
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