On Saturday night, the Florida Panthers won their home opener against the Tampa Lightning, 3-2. The BankAtlantic Center was packed with Panther fans, many wearing red, as it played host to one of the most exciting games Florida will play this year. The energy in the arena was palpable, and the long wait for the Panthers’ first home game was certainly worth it.
I can’t really remember a time in recent history that there was so much buildup going into a Panthers game. The franchise’s renovation has breathed new life into its fans, and this game was a testament to that. The arena was rocking, the Panther red far outnumbered the Lightning blue, and the crowd made a different, louder noise. It felt like a playoff game to have that many fans so emotionally invested in the outcome. Judging by the final score and individual performance, those fans should be racing to buy more tickets.
From a game standpoint, there were a few negatives, but a lot more positives. Below are my three favorite and least favorite things that I took from the game.
I’ll start with my least favorites and get those out of the way.
The one major thing I didn’t like was our inability to hold a lead. Twice in the third period, the Panthers had a one-goal lead, and twice they relinquished it. Even though we beat the Lightning in a shootout, I’m a little concerned that we surrendered two leads. We won’t scratch out overtime wins every time that way. It’s too reminiscent of the old Panthers.
A second dislike was the number of bodies in front of the net from Lightning. Both goals that were given up by Jose Theodore were not necessarily his fault: there was a big Lightning player in front of him both times. With his reflexes, Theodore can make any save so long as he can see the puck. The big defenders and even the centers need to be physical enough down low to clear a path for Theodore and so those goals (both came from Marc-Andre Bergeron) can be prevented.
My final dislike is Ryan Carter. Even though he is just the fourth-line center and he didn’t get a lot of ice time, Carter didn’t exactly impress. On his first shift, he was caught offsides as the Panthers were rushing and looking for a good scoring chance. Just a few minutes later, he took a bad roughing penalty. He was silent for the rest of the game. Carter just looked out of sync and a little overmatched. He’d better get on the same page as the rest of his team, or there will be a nice seat for him on the next flight to San Antonio.
But do not be angry! There are many positives as well!
The first is the special teams. Something we never had last year has at least a halfway decent power play. They might have a great one this year. The Panthers went 2 for 6 with a man advantage, and had great puck movement and pressure on both those goals. They were better able to gain the zone this game compared to their last game against the Penguins. Brian Campbell continued to look slick moving the puck. And, like always our penalty kill was perfect, killing off both our penalties.
The second is Ed Jovanovski. His glorious return to South Florida hockey was hyped for a long time coming into this game, and he did not disappoint. He scored the first goal on a quick slap shot from the point on the PP, giving the raucous crowd their first listening of the Panthers’ new goal song (whatever it is, it’s not good). He was also solid on defense all night, breaking up some key opportunities for the Lightning. He also was an intimidating figure in the mental battle. He gave many Lightning players some “love taps” at the end of plays, and they were mute to react. He just bullied some of the Lightning around.
My third favorite is the overall physicality. Along with JovoCop, the rest of the Panther players threw their bodies around often. The biggest hit of the game came from Scottie Upshall on Victor Hedman: Upshall knocked him right into the Panthers bench on a huge upper body check. In numerous other times the Panthers laid some big hits, and even of they weren’t huge, they were enough to intimidate the Lightning. The Panthers definitely seemed to be the team in control of the physical play, also something that we didn’t see in the Penguins game.
Of course, these are only some of the things I liked. I though Theodore, Jack Skille, Shawn Matthias, and Erik Gudbranson all had productive, gritty performances. They weren’t a whole lot of things to hate, all up and down the lineup.
So there’s my quick game recap: what do you think? Comment on the bottom.
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