Should the regular season end in April with the Florida Panthers outside of the top 8 in the Eastern Conference, they will need only look back at the first half of season and the high number of overtime/shootout losses they’ve racked up. Tuesday night against the Philadelphia Flyers, the last before the All-Star break, the Panthers lost in a shootout 3-2 to bring their OT/shootout loss total to 11 in front of 17,737 at the Bank Atlantic Center.
The amount of points that the Cats have let other teams walk away with in the extra sessions would have given them a nice lead in their division had they been able to put away their opponents. Instead, they’ll have to ‘settle’ for being tied with the Washington Capitals for first place in the Southeast Division and tied for 7th in the East.
For the second straight game, the Panthers came out of the dressing room with a tremendous amount of energy and it paid off again. Mikael Samuelsson blasted a slap shot from just above the right face off circle on the power play at 2:49. After a series of dismal starts the past few weeks, starting strong and getting that first goal the past two games is encouraging. Despite the strong start, the Flyers would use a little luck to get the game back level. Brayden Schenn’s shot on the power play would be initially saved by Scott Clemmensen but the rebound went straight into the air and bounced off Clemmensen’s back and into the net, seconds before it was dislodged from the moorings. The Flyers wouldn’t stop there in the period as Jakub Voracek would take a Tom Sestito feed and beat Clemmensen short side at 17:59 of the period to make it 2-1 at the end of the first.
In Saturday’s contest against the Winnipeg Jets, Kris Versteeg broke his nine-game goalless drought. Tuesday, it was Versteeg who had the largest hand in Tomas Fleischmann breaking his eight game scoring drought. Versteeg drove in on a breakaway but couldn’t beat Sergei Bobrovsky but did enough to draw him out of net. Versteeg then backhanded a pass to a charging Fleischmann who buried into an open cage and knotted the game at two. Stephen Weiss picked up the secondary assist giving the Flashmob line full credit on a goal for the first time in recent memory.
Despite being outshot 10-9 in the third, it was the Panthers who seemed to control much of the period. A hit post here and a Bobrovsky save there were about the only things that kept this from being a Florida victory in regulation. But with that not happening and an even overtime period, the game headed to a shootout and we know how that usually ends for the Panthers. Claude Giroux’s goal was all the Flyers would need as all three Florida shooters would fail to get the puck past Bobrovsky.
And with that, the Panthers head into the All-Star break in a playoff spot, which if you had said that back in late September, you’d have been overjoyed. But, in the season’s first fourth months, this Panthers team has raised expectations for itself. They’ve played high-quality hockey for much of the season while battling the injury bug among their forwards for almost two months, and now face it in their defensive group. And while collecting as many OT losses as they have is frustrating, Panther teams in recent memory would have found a way to lose those games in regulation and find itself far back in the playoff picture. But make no mistake, if they want to make the playoffs, they are going to have to find a way to turn these one-pointers into two. Teams like the Caps, Winnipeg Jets and the Tampa Bay Lightning will probably make a second half push within the division that will keep the pressure on the Panthers until April 7th. Will this team be able to keep pace? I believe they can as they’ve shown for much of the young season but, for that to happen, they need to find a way to somehow produce in the overtime or get back to winning these games in regulation. Second half starts February 1st when the Washington Capitals come to town with first place on the line.
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