I can’t tell you how many Panther fans I know that were so disenchanted with the team the last few years because of how many games the Panthers seemed to blow in the third period. Our old team would be noticeably less aggressive, would shrink their offense back to protect the net, and would dump but not chase. These fans shared the same sentiment as me, that our team played to not lose.
This sentiment is what tore down the support for another former Panther, Tomas Vokoun. Though his stats were brilliant, he never seemed to be consistently able to close the games for the Panthers when they needed a big save. His mental toughness was too often questioned, and whether or not you think he deserved it, Vokoun was typically skewered among the Panthers’ fans.
Enter Jose Theodore. Bursting back onto the scene after being relegated to backup duties in Washington and Minnesota, Theodore has almost immediately endeared himself to the fan base with his incredible saves and gritty determination. If you still miss the sexy stats of Vokoun, I would leave that ship behind. Theodore is the better goaltender because he wins hockey games. And if you don’t believe me, check the scoreboard.
After the Panthers win over the Hurricanes on Tuesday and the Capitals loss to the Blues, the “kitty cats” are a cool five points up in the Southeast Division. To boot, the Panthers are up to second in the Eastern Conference, and they are only behind the league-leading by two points with a game in hand. Panther fans have never had it so good to begin a season, and I can’t really say anything eloquent about the Panthers’ newfound success or what its like to root for a contending hockey team. I feel like Ricky Bobby in his first interview.
One thing I do know, however, is how great of a goalie Theodore has been for the Panthers. His record and save percentage are lovely. His competitiveness is unmatched. The best part, though, is what was missing from the previous goalie.
Theodore has an uncanny knack of getting tougher and tougher to solve as the games goes on. You’ve seen it game after game, especially on the Thanksgiving Feast segment of the schedule: winning one-goal games, not relenting when the other team pulls the goalie, scoreless third periods. Jose’s mental toughness and desire to block every shot have absolutely saved many games for the Panthers this year. Any other goalie would have thrown in the towel after that first period against New Jersey. But not Jose: he stuck in there, and Dineen believed in him from behind the bench. The Devils didn’t even sniff the net for the rest of the game, and the Panthers let their top line go to work to claw their way back. Any other goalie, that’s a big fat L on a homestand that could afford those types of games.
Hopefully Theodore can maintain his stellar play between the pipes, because if he does, it won’t be a matter of whether or not the Panthers make the playoffs this year. It will be a matter of how high we might be seeded.
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