I’m sure that each hockey fan in South Florida, either a lifetime Panthers season ticket holder or fair-weather fan, has become enamored with the new look Panther team. With a 15-8-4 record, the Cats hold a comfortable six point lead in the Southeast division over the Winnipeg Jets and are third in the Eastern Conference.
But of course, you have to beat the big boys if you want to be called one of the big boys.
The Boston Bruins are the big boys of the NHL right now, without question. Before losing in regulation to Winnipeg Tuesday night for the first time since October 29, the Bruins had a 14-0-1 record in their last 15 games. The have the league’s best goalie in Tim Thomas, biggest checkers in Milan Lucic and Zdeno Chara, and some of the best depth at forward. Even when the Bruins take some liberties while playing physically (they play an enormously physical brand of hockey), they can just kill off their penalties with the fifth-best PK in the NHL. You’d be hard-pressed to find a weak spot in the Bruins roster, and holes very rarely open up in their game. There is a reason that the Stanley Cup is in Boston.
However, as we’ve seen so many times before from the Panthers, they are a team up for the task that the Bruins present. The Panthers still have the best line in hockey with the Flashmob Line, will get solid goaltending from Jose Theodore, and have hot special teams. To balance everything out, it looks like the bottom three lines are finally chipping in on the scoring, taking the burden off the shoulders of the top line.
Despite their improved roster and phenomenal record, the Panthers can’t expect to win this game Thursday night in Boston without a big time, season-high effort. The Bruins have been completely overbearing on teams that rest on their laurels or come out flat. In order to beat the Bruins, we are going to have to outwork them on the sideboards, put in some dirty goals, and match their physicality at least somewhat. Of course, this is easier said than done, or else one of the teams the Bruins played over the last fifteen games would have employed that strategy.
I wouldn’t say that it would be an underdog affair if the Panthers beat the Bs, but it would be a season-defining win, something our team could draw inspiration from for the rest of the year. It would tell all of those sanctimonious Canadian reporters that there really is something big brewing in South Florida, we can hang with any team, and that we can sit at the big kids’ table for Christmas dinner this year.
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