Chris higgins Celebrates. Source: NHL.com

Shutout Looked Good. Especially From My Seat.


Today’s musical selection is I Wanna Be Adored by The Raveonettes.

Chris Higgins looked relieved as well as happy after last night’s 3-0 shutout victory by the Florida Panthers over the New York Rangers.  The skilled forward scoring against his former team, gave the Panthers a 2-0 lead, and helped take some of the pressure of the rest of the Panthers, as they rode the back of goaltender Tomas Vokoun.

The goal by Higgins showed everyone the skill that he possess as he scooped up a loose puck in the Panthers zone and used his speed to lead a two on one with Michael Frolik.  Instead of passing, Higgins waited as Ranger defenceman Michael Del Zotto dove in front of Higgins, but the gifted forward stickhandled around the defender and neatly put the puck behind Ranger goaltender Martin Biron.  Goaltender Tomas Vokoun was just as happy as Higgins himself.

“Everyone knew we needed another goal to feel comfortable, make it a little easier on Vokoun,” said Higgins, who was traded from the Rangers to Calgary last season before signing with Florida as a free agent over the summer. “It went in and I’m real thrilled with the win. It feels good to happen in a win, that’s the most important thing. We need a big second half, we have a lot of games on home ice. Hopefully this jump-starts us.”

Vokoun who earned his fifth shutout of the season, made 32 saves as the Panthers reached the .500 mark for the first time since November 20th when they were 9-9-0.  Vokoun  however, the solid citizen that he is, let his mates describe his play last night.

“Tomas played a great game for us. He deserves a little more lead than just one and we gave it to him,” Higgins said. “He shut the door on them and obviously you can get a little momentum when Vokie’s making those big saves like he did.”

Stephen Weiss scored an empty netter for his 12th of the season sealing the game for the Panthers who are now 4-1-2 in their last seven games.  Quietly getting themselves to .500 in their quest for a playoff birth.  Having lost leads to both Boston and Montreal in their previous two games, it was imperative for the Panthers to not only win this game, but to start the new year off on the right foot.

Here’s the TSN boxscore.

David Booth opened the scoring with his 10th goal of the season on the power play no less midway into the second period.  The Panthers had been applying pressure since the latter part of the first and continued doing so throughout the game.  The power play opportunity game on a holding penalty to Ranger rookie Dale Weise, that left Ranger head coach John Tortorella fuming.

“I don’t want to hear about a ‘rookie mistake,”‘ Rangers coach John Tortorella said about Weise’s penalty. “It was an offensive-zone penalty — a dumb penalty.”

The pace of the game picked up after a mostly slow start in the first period by both teams.  While the Panthers were out shooting the Rangers early, you could feel that if they kept applying offensive zone pressure, they’d get their chances.  Biron made some strong saves early to keep the contest scoreless himself, but Florida’s forwards played a much stronger game than they did against Montreal on New Year’s eve.

Early in the third period it appeared that Cory Stillman had scored a goal that would have put the Panthers up 2-0.  After the play was reviewed the goal was disallowed, as the puck went of Stillman’s skate in the proverbial “distinct kicking motion”.  Not deflated, the Panthers held off the Rangers who seemed to get a little bit of life from the non-goal.  However Vokoun was strong, and when Higgins scored about five minutes later, you could feel the relief in the air.  A great response by this group for sure.

My Molson Canadien player of the gameChris Higgins.  Yes, Vokoun played great, but the goal by Higgins was huge in the scheme of things.

Tonight the Panthers take on the Carolina Hurricanes in Carolina.  A busy week ahead as the Cats have five games this week, including 2 sets of back to back contests.  A great opportunity to make up some ground and move up in the standings.  A tough building to play in for Florida, they need to bring their game from last night, and keep themselves out of the penalty box in tonight’s contest.  Let’s not make fatigue a factor.

Final thoughts.  Last night was a bit of a special night for me and the Rat Trick site.  We, meaning the Rat Pack of myself, Dave and Josh have been approved for press credentials.  Meaning we are able to watch the game from the press box, get closer to the players and some other really neat stuff.  It’s a huge step forward for us here and with that in mind, our writing and our analysis is only going to get better.  Yes, we’ll still be objective.  Yes, we’ll still be funny and sarcastic.  But you’ll see an improvement of everything as the season continues.  All I can say it was a great experience for me last night, as I watched the game in a much different manner.  Thank you to the Florida Panthers organization for granting us this permission.

What’s next for the this Rat Pack trio?  T-shirts? License plate frames?  Maybe bobbleheads!

Thanks for reading.  Your comments are welcomed and appreciated.

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Tags: Chris Higgins Florida Panthers New York Rangers Shutouts Stephen Weiss Tomas Vkoun