While not mathematically eliminated from the playoffs the Florida Panthers face yet another challenge today when they take on the New York Islanders in an afternoon contest. The Panthers find themselves still in the race based on numbers as they are seven points behind the Carolina Hurricanes tied for the 11th spot with the Toronto Maple Leafs. They have had a recent stretch of games where everyone they seem to play has been one of the superior teams in the league, and except for winning all those games, they have at least kept pace with their opponents.
This afternoon however they face a team that is at the bottom of the list and one thing that they can’t do is play to the level of their opponent in this game. This is one of those games that on paper you know you should win, and you know you should take the two available points. Stepping on the gas for the entire 60 minutes is going to be the only way to play this game. No need to play a safe road game. No need to wait for the Islanders to make a mistake. A win today and the Cats will be five points out of a spot. That’s a real number that becomes attainable.
The Islanders aren’t playing like slouches though as they are 7-3-0 in their last ten games. They aren’t going to make this game and easy one, and my guess is that Michael Grabner may play as though he has something to prove. He’s been on a hot streak lately and has now scored 25 goals which leads the Islanders. Much has been said about Grabner and how the Panthers again let a player go who flourished someplace else. Gang, this could be a flash in the pan or it could be the real thing. We don’t know for sure. When Grabner was in training camp he was given every opportunity to earn a roster spot. He didn’t. Let it go. If he has a great game today, so be it. You can’t blame him if he’s a little charged up.
Let’s not ignore some of the other Islander players either, John Tavares who leads the team in points with 51. Matt Moulson who is tied for second in goals with 23 and has recently signed a contract extension. Offensively the Islanders seem to have some of the right ingredients. It’s their defence and goaltending which seem to be question marks. There will be some additional re-tooling in the offseason for them as well.
The Panthers are coming off a victory in the shootout Saturday night when Mike Santorelli scored the winner for Florida. Santorelli has been one of the most pleasant surprises this season, not only of the Panthers, but of the NHL. Given more ice time and more responsibility, he’s flourished. Dennis Wideman, and Marty Reasoner are on hot streaks of their own, as the Panthers challenged offence spreads the scoring around. Reasoner has been another pleasant addition to the team. Not sure if he sticks around and makes it past the trade deadline, but I’d like to see him stay with us. At least one more season.
Tomas Vokoun back in goal this afternoon. He’s 2-0-0 this year and 14-3-0 lifetime against the Islanders with a career 1.86 GAA.
Here’s your TSN Pregame. Check out our FanSided opponent Eye On Isles.
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