Maybe the Florida Panthers should play more afternoon games. The Cats played a weekend of matinees and collected four points in two wins, the last coming Sunday in a 4-1 win against the New York Islanders. After giving up the lead to the Isles (once again, within the first five minutes of the period, and on the first opposition shot), the Panthers rallied for four goals over the next two periods to give themselves a three-game winning streak and extend their lead in the Southeast Division to four points (Thanks to the New York Rangers taking care of the Washington Capitals 3-2 over at Madison Square Garden).
Frans Nielson continued the Florida trend of spotting their opposition an early lead when he blew past Panther defensemen too high in the zone and fired a wrister past Jose Theodore to make it 1-0. It was the fourth consecutive road game the Panthers have given opponents an early cushion. Like in New Jersey the day before, the goal served as a wake-up call for Florida, who wouldn’t allow a goal the rest of the contest. 27-year-old Tyson Strachan, playing in his 75th NHL game, scored his first NHL goal with five minutes left in the first period with a blue line blast off a Marcel Goc face-off win. The tally would send the teams to the dressing rooms for the first intermission knotted at one.
In the second period, the now red-hot Flashmob line would help blow this game out of the water. Tomas Fleischmann easily tapped in an ambitious Kris Versteeg pass at 4:17 in the period. With Stephen Weiss getting the second assist, it marked the second consecutive game that line produced all three points on a goal. That first line, which carried the Panthers water through the first part of the season, is starting to heat up much like it was, a great sign for a team that still has trouble scoring. At 11:41. it was Fleischmann’s turn to assist on a Versteeg power play goal. Also on the goal, Brian Campbell collected his 23 point on the power play, good enough for second in the league overall and the most by any defenseman to this point. Any hope of an Islander comeback was dashed 1:27 left in the period when the Panthers would once again capitalize on another offensive zone face-win. Jack Skille would turn and fire a Shawn Matthias won face-off past Evgeni Nabokov to send the Panthers into the dressing room up 4-1.
The third didn’t see any goals nor much interest in doing so by Florida, as they were outshot 11-4 in the period. That mindset has cost the Panthers a few times this season but, for the second straight day, they skated deftly with a lead in their back pocket. Credit to Theodore and the Panther defense as many of the shots faced this game were hardly tough ones for Theo to corral, save for the first shot. The win also give Theodore his 275th as a NHL goaltender.
The Islanders came into the game with visions of putting together a strong second half run and, just maybe, finding a way to sneak into the eighth spot in the East. But it was Florida who, after the early miscue, came out and skated like a playoff team beating a team they absolutely should beat. It’s been a strange week for the Cats. After losing consecutive games for the first time since mid-October, including an absolute embarrassment in Washington on Tuesday, they’ve peeled off three straight wins, including two on the road where they’ve struggled since the early part of the season. With the Flashmob line starting to look like they did in November to go along with the Sean Bergenheim-Goc-Mikael Samuelsson line and this team is more than capable of making the strong playoff push Panther fans have been dreaming off. It remains to be seen if Dale Tallon will add any pieces to this group but, with a four-game homestand this coming week, the Panthers will have ample opportunity to add to their division lead and further entrench themselves as playoff contenders.
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Topics: Believe Red, Dale Tallon, Evgeni Nabokov, Flashmob Line, Florida Panthers, Frans Nielson, Jack Skille, Jose Theodore, Kris Versteeg, Marcel Goc, New York Islanders, Release The Strachan, Shawn Matthias, Stephen Weiss, Tomas Fleischmann, Tyson Strachan