You have to imagine that the Florida Panthers have approached rock bottom for this year. The game against the Colorado Avalanche that we all stayed up to watch only would lead to disappointment, as the Panthers squandered a two-goal lead in the third and many opportunities both in regulation and overtime to send the Panthers on the road to Chicago with only one measly point.
But things weren’t always bad during the game. The biggest draw coming in was that Stephen Weiss was skating in his 600th career game, each one with Florida. His career in South Florida has had its ups and downs, but for the most part he has been solid as a top line center for the Panthers. He would play an important role in this game.
The first period was solid on almost every front for the Panthers. The power play, after a couple good chances, generated a goal from Marcel Goc to put the first tally on the board. A good play by Michal Repik behind the net provided the puck for Goc, who was camped out in front of Avalanche goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere. A couple swipes later, the puck sneaked past the left pad of JS, and after further replays it became obvious that Colorado defenseman Ryan O’Byrne.
The second period unleashed Peter Mueller, who had been sidelined for a couple of seasons with concussion-related symptoms. Mueller scored his first goal since 2009 from point-blank against Jose Theodore, who was beaten through the five-hole. The Avalanche held the zone for too long, and the Panthers got sloppy with their positioning trying to clear the puck. The result was Mueller taking a pass and waltzing into the slot for a tying goal.
But before the end of the period, the Panthers regained the lead with an effort goal from Stephen Weiss. He did what many critics of his wished he would do more of: he drove into the slot, made some moves in tight spaces, and got the puck to the net. Weiss stumbled and ran into Giguere, but the puck trickled in under Weiss’ body. A little puck luck gave the Panthers the lead right back.
The third started just as well for Florida, as Tomas Kopecky netted a blocked shot opportunity to make it a 3-1 game. Kopecky stumbled across a pot of gold after a Mikael Samuelsson wrister was deflected right on to Tomas’ stick with a totally empty net. Kopecky didn’t miss that opportunity.
But unfortunately the rest of the team did that exact thing: miss opportunities. When Matt Bradley was cut by Jay Mcclement’s high stick, the Panthers tried their luck at a four-minute man advantage. The power play was fruitless, and very few chances were created. The momentum was swinging.
A too many men call on the Panthers bench a earlier in the period set up a power play for the Avalanche, and Peter Mueller got his second goal on the day from a slap shot from the point. The shielded Jose Theodore had almost no chance. The game opened up after that, and everybody watching and playing the game had a feeling that the Avalanche would send it into overtime: the equalizer came at 16:43 from Paul Stastny.
Theodore let a high backhand bounce off his shoulder, and a hungry Avalanche team pounced on the opportunity. Stastny kept chipping away at the puck directly in front of Theodore before popping the puck over his pads for the goal. The Panthers were completely on their heels: they just gave their two-goal cushion in the third, and were about to face the NHL’s best overtime team.
Overtime started with promise for the Panthers; they were in a frenzy to score, and they almost did. Stephen Weiss was denied on a 3-on-1 breakaway trying to make a backhand move between the legs if Giguere. Jean-Sebastien looked like an all-world goalie at some points if this game, and this was his best moment. Panther fans no doubt shook their head in frustrayion: the Panthers cannot buy an overtime goal.
It didn’t take long for the Avalanche to put the Panthers in even more misery. Ryan O’Reilly threw a wrister through Theodore’s five-hole to end it, and it was one of Theodore’s weakest goals of the year.
So the Panthers will now go to Chicago to play their next game, but they’re playing some of their worst hockey of the year. The defense is sloppy, the offense still can’t reap what it sews in terms of chances, and there is a question about much Florida should lean on a fragile Theodore. This is the time for Kevin Dineen to be an NHL coach and get his team out if its funk. The Panthers are going to need to play very strong before the All Star Break if they plan on leading the Southeast Division.
Reminder, our Road Watch is Saturday the 21st.
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