After Monday night’s dramatic 4-3 win over the New Jersey Devils, Florida Panthers head coach Kevin Dineen commented on how his team always seems to give fans ‘their money’s worth’. On Wednesday night, his team once again treated the home fans another thrilling finish as the Panthers outlasted the New York Rangers 2-1. The Panther defense turned in another strong effort as they limited the Rangers to only only 20 shots. At the other end of the ice, the Cats controlled the run of play for much of the game, putting 38 pucks on Henrik Lunqvist. King Henrik usually saves some of his greatest efforts for he Panthers, and Wednesday was no different, as his spectacular play was the only reason this game didn’t turn into an easy one for the home side. Once again, Jose Theodore turned in another strong effort, as he stood strong in his crease as the Rangers made the expected late-game charge.
After a couple of terrible starts the past three games, the Panthers tried the reverse and took advantage of an early power play opportunity. With Ranger captain Ryan Callahan in the box for roughing, Tomas Fleischmann flipped a backhanded pass back to Brian Campbell at the blueline who quickly passed to a wide open Jason Garrison, and well, you can guess what he did. It was another blast from the point that found it’s way past Lundqvist and gave the Panthers an early 1-0 lead.
The Panthers doubled their lead just 1:09 into the second when once again, Fleischmann backhanded a pass to a charging Kris Versteeg, who wristed it through Lundqvist’s five hole, to make it 2-0. But the Rangers got on the board three minutes later when Marian Gaborik charged up the right side and found a trailing Derek Stepan who coasted to the left faceoff circle before ripping a hot into the upper right corner of the net to make it 2-1.
Even with two goals in the second period, the biggest momemnt came when Andre Deveaux hit Fleischmann with an elbow square to the head as Flash tried to maneuver through the neutral zone (You can see the the hit here). Whether or not Deveaux targeted the head, which he claims he didn’t, he can expect to sit a few games as he has a hearing with NHL discipline czar Brandan Shanahan on Thursday. The best news of course was the Fleischmann was not injured on the play and after heading to the dressing room for a brief time, came back to the bench and barely missed a shift.
Even though there was no scoring in the third, the Panthers kept up constant pressure on the Ranger net, outshooting them 17-8 in the period. The Cats had a few strong chances on two power play opportunities but couldn’t get that third goal past Lundqvist. Stephen Weiss helped salt away the win by winning several key faceoffs in his defensive zone very late in the game to keep New York from getting too many chances to tie with their net empty.
It’s another monster win for the Panthers who have collected all six points three games into this holiday home stand. Even more importantly, their opponents, all of whom will be factors in the playoff races, have walked out without one. If you had asked me what would make this a successful home stand, I would’ve said 6 out of the 8. Well, the Panthers are now one game from winning them all and further entrenching themselves as contenders for the rest of the season. And while this team has improved its ability to score, it’s the defense that has been impressive as of late. They’ve averaged 2.0 goals against the past three games, and after a disastrous first period on Monday against the Devils, the Panthers have only allowed 32 shots on Theodore over the last five periods, allowing only one goal in that span. The performance last night is even more impressive considering Dmitry Kulikov was a late scratch and Erik Gudbranson filled in and played his best game of his young NHL career. He saw over three minutes of power play time and put five shots on net. He had been a healthy scratch the past few games, but a performance like last night will go a long way to give the young defenseman some confidence.
Friday night, it’s the Tampa Bay Lightning coming to town for the front end of a home and home series. A win and the Panthers sweep their annual Thanksgiving feast, which might actually force national hockey news outlets to pay attention.
Check out Fansided’s excellent Rangers blog for their view of last night at Blue Line Station.
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Topics: Andre Deveaux, Brian Campbell, Derek Stepan, Dmitry Kulikov, Erik Gudbranson, Florida Panthers, Henrik Lundqvist, Jason Garrison, Kris Versteeg, Marian Gaborik, New Jersey Devils, New York Rangers, Stephen Weiss, Tampa Bay Lightning, Tomas Fleischmann