When you’re a NHL team that’s having trouble scoring goals, the last thing you want to see is the Nashville Predators and their talented, monstrous netminder Pekka Rinne. And yet, that was the mountain the Florida Panthers had to climb Saturday night at the Bank Atlantic Center. To make matters worse, the Panthers were still going to be without the services of leading scorer Kris Versteeg, whose missed his third straight game with a lower body injury. And the task proved to be insurmountable as the Cats dropped a crucial game to the Preds 3-1.
The Panthers came out with the jump and vigor you expected to see following Thursday’s 7-0 tail-kicking against the Winnipeg Jets. They outshot the Predators 15-6 in the first period but, the closest they came to lighting the lamp was a Tomas Fleischmann shot that clanged off the post early in the frame. Just past midway through the period, the Preds would take the lead when one of their shots clanged in off the correct side of the post. Newly-acquired Andrei Kostitsyn’s innocent looking shot beat Scott Clemmensen to his right and rang off the iron and in for a 1-0 lead. In a game against a team that doesn’t give up a lot of goals, it’s the type of goal that Clemmensen couldn’t allow.
Nashville doubled their lead early in the second when Martin Erat won the battle in Gretzky’s Office behind Clemmensen and fed a charging, unchecked Mike Fisher who easily buried the feed. The Panthers would get one back on some beautiful hockey reminiscent of this past November. On a breakout, former Predator Marcel Goc laced a cross-ice pass to Wojetk Wolski, who blasted it into the open cage to give the Cats some life at 2-1. Despite having two power plays in the period after that goal, the Panthers were unable to put the tying goal past Rinne and took a 2-1 deficit to the third.
The Predators effectively put the game away at 7:02 in the third when David Legwand caught the Panthers in a bad line change, raced in alone and beat Clemmensen five-hole for the 3-1 lead.
You knew coming in that it would be an uphill climb as Nasvhille as has positioned itself as one of the best teams in the league but, on the other hand, this is the type of win the Panthers needed. Simply beating teams they’re ‘supposed’ to be beat won’t cut it from here on out or the Cats will find themselves on the outside looking in come playoff time. The Panthers are also in desperate need of a ‘hero’. Someone who can get on a scoring run and help carry the team through the rest of the season. In November, it was the Flashmob line that did the job effectively as a group but, through February/March, consistent goal scoring as a team has been a monumental problem.
The Panthers climb right back on the horse Sunday at home against the Ottawa Senators, a team that have proven to be the most frustrating of opponents this season. In three previous meetings this season, the Cats are 0-2-1 against the boys from Canada’s capital, including a 6-2 pasting a few weeks ago in Sunrise. It’s another in a long line of ‘must win’ games that will populate the Florida landscape the rest of the regular season. As the Cats play with more frequency (3rd game in 4 nights), those games in hand the team has held in their back pockets will start to dry up and they’ll mean absolutely nothing unless the team can start pocketing some points from those games.
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