In a season that has been filled with big game after big game for the Florida Panthers, they’ve yet to have the opportunity to match themselves up with the defending Stanley Cup Champion Boston Bruins. Until Thursday night, that is. The Panthers visited their future ‘conference’ rival for the first of four games this season. Sixty minutes later, the Cats emerged with a hard-fought, post-aided, but well earned 2-0 over the B’s.
With the early flurry that starting netminder Jose Theodore faced, you thought it would be just a matter of time before the Bruins would break through on the scoreboard. But, with the aid of a goal post or five, Theo was able to help the Panthers withstand the barrage. Veteran tough-guy Krys Barch, aquired from the Dallas Stars on Wednesday, made his Panther debut and it didn’t take long for him to make an impact. On his first shift, he flattened Daniel Paille (Barch would be called for charging and Paille would not return) and got into a scrap with Shawn Thornton just seconds later. A more physical approach was the reason Barch was brought in and it didn’t take long for him to pay those dividends.
While you hate to see a guy take an early penalty against an outstanding team, it was nice to see a bit of ‘nastiness’ coming from the Panthers, who haven’t been overly physical despite the amount of success they’ve had. The one guy who has been consistently physical, Jack Skille, made his presence known when he dropped gloves with Johnny Boychuk late in the second after Skille took exception to the Bruins defenseman hitting Mike Santorelli.
Still scoreless after two, this had the feel of a game destined for overtime as both Theodore and reigning Vezina Trophy winner Tim Thomas made save after clutch save. But, after 57:28 hard fought minutes by both teams, the Panthers were finally able to break through. A great Dmitry Kulikov poke-check in the defensive zone gave the Cats a rush up the left boards. Shawn Matthias blasted a slap shot from the left face-off circle that Thomas saved but left a rebound right in front of his net. After several Panthers and Bruins overskated the rebound, in swooped Tomas Kopecky, who fired the rebound over a sprawling Thomas to give the Panthers the lead. 1:50 later, it was Kris Versteeg who put the baby to bed when he outraced everybody to a lose puck on the left boards, and flip it into the open net to make it 2-0.
Coming into the game, the Bruins were still the hottest team in hockey despite losing Tuesday to the Winnipeg Jets and the defending champs played a physical game that the Panthers hadn’t seen much. With the help of newly-acquired Barch and Skille, the Panthers didn’t allow themselves to be bullied, while still maintaining their composure. To say it’s a monster win is, obviously, an understatement. It seems this team has had a series of tests the past few weeks as far as opponents and game circumstances and, for the most part, they have passed with flying colors and tonight is another example. If you’re a Panther fan and you’re reading this, chances are you are already 100% sold on this team. A few more games like Thursday, and it won’t be long until more people around the league and across South Florida are believers in this team.
But yet another test awaits this team, as they have to put this game behind them and face a talented (but underperforming) Buffalo Sabres team less in less than 24 hours. The last time the team faced this type of time crunch, they were shutout by the Washington Capitals on the road. That was back in mid October. Friday night in Buffalo, it’s a good chance to see how far this team has come since then.
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