Should the Florida Panthers miss the playoffs this season, they can look back at the games between 2/15 and 2/23 as their undoing. The Panthers came into that four game home stand riding a three game winning streak (including last two on the road, no less) and looking to take a firm hold of the Southeast Division as the regular season draws to a close. However, what was a dream setup has turned into a bit of a nightmare. Thursday night, the Panthers were able to pull out a point out of a game they were trailing but eventually fell 3-2 in a shootout to the Minnesota Wild.
The good news for the Panthers is that despite the Winnipeg Jets taking over first place in the division (courtesy of their win over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday), they still hold the 8th spot in the Eastern Conference (by virtue of having three games in hand against the Toronto Maple Leafs). But, this squad can’t rely on other teams in the division and needs to find ways to start getting both points out of a game.
After a scoreless first period, Mikael Samuelsson ended a 6+ period goal drought with a rebound goal on the power play at 13:23 in the second. The complexion of the game and the play of goaltenders Jose Theodore and Niklas Backstrom made it seem like that would be the only goal of the game but the Cats wouldn’t be so lucky. Kyle Brodziak would corral a bouncing, deflected puck and put it past Theodore with under 20 seconds left to tie the game at 1 heading into the second intermission. It didn’t seem like a fitting result considering the Panthers had dominated much of the second period, outshooting the Wild 14-8 but, Backstrom’s strong play kept the Panthers from any further damage in the period.
It only took 1:14 of the third for the Wild to take the lead. Former Panther Matt Cullen made them pay for a Stephen Weiss (playing in his team record 614 game as a Florida Panther) penalty by burying his 13th on a rebound for a 2-1 lead. When it seemed like the Panthers were headed to their fourth straight regulation loss, it was Sean Bergenheim to the rescue. With under five minutes to play, a tightly-marked Bergenheim, the Panthers best forward since he returned from injury, took a Brian Campbell pass just above Backstrom’s crease, turned and fired a perfectly placed shot in the back of the net to tie things at 2.
With neither team able to net the winner in the overtime session, the game went to the shootout, the Panthers kryptonite. As you might expect, it didn’t go well as the Wild nailed both of their chances while the Panthers weren’t even close with theirs.
The Panthers close the home stand banking only 1 of an 8 possible points and you can pin most of the blame on the offense. The Panthers only managed four goals over the course of the home stand while Theodore played strong in the final three games, allowing only five goals in that span. I don’t know if there will be any remedy for a fading offense between now and Monday’s trade deadline but, if the Cats don’t start finding some goals and soon, they could see this season of rejuvenation end in the same fashion as the previous ten.
With 22 games remaining, this team is capable of going on a run to put themselves back in front of this division and the games in hand to put some space in between the other teams but, can they rediscover their play of October/November in time?
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