8 points up for grabs. Four games later the 8 points are all ours because, well, the Florida Panthers are playing much better hockey. For the first time in a long while, the Panthers find themselves seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. That light being the playoffs. After an incredible 4 game homestand coming away with all 8 points, we sit back and think what have the Panthers done in these 4 games that have made them so successful?
Scoring first. The Panthers know that they often have found themselves down in games and having to fight their way back to catch up. In the first 3 games of this homestand, they scored the first goal. When they do score first, they have a record of 22-2-8.
Standing up for teammates. For a long time, the Panthers have not had one player that sticks up for his teammates. Now not only do the Panthers have big guys like Krys Barch and Erik Gudbranson to use their toughness, but it seems Shawn Matthias is now a rising star in terms of fighting. During this homestand, Matthias has been in 2 fights sticking up for teammates especially a cheap shot on Keaton Ellerby in the game against Toronto. Here’s the Matthias fight against Buffalo’s Mike Weber on Saturday night. Even Kris Versteeg got into a little brawl on Saturday night against Christian Erhoff. It is good to see all of them stick up for one another.
Taking more shots. In the past, the Panthers seemed to be trying to make the “perfect pass” instead of taking the shot. Now everyone is taking a shot when it feels right. Also, they are crashing the net and picking up rebounds that previously they missed.
Improved defensive play. Our defense is moving opposing players out of the lanes so Jose Theodore can see the initial shot and make the save. They are collapsing around the net in order to clear out any rebounds. The defense is moving the puck out of the zone quickly using the side boards and keeping it away from the middle. They’ve tightened up their play and not allowed opposing players to slip behind them or find the open ice.
Goaltending. Jose Theodore has been playing incredible lately. He has been making some great saves and not giving up many rebounds. He’s anticipating passes well and playing his angle perfectly. Here’s his incredible save against Carolina’s Patrick Dwyer.
Getting guys back in the lineup. On Saturday’s game, Kris Versteeg and Dmitry Kulikov returned to the lineup after being out for some time. Both contributed majorly with Kulikov scoring the decisive goal in the shootout. It will definitely be good to have both these guys back for the playoff push.
Lucky bounces. Previously, it seemed the puck always bounced away from the Panthers. Now it seems as though the tide has turned and pucks are bouncing their way. An example being during the Boston game when the puck deflected off a Bruin’s skate and landed right on Tomas Kopecky’s stick which led to a goal. Sometimes these lucky bounces can be very significant.
The Panthers realize this playoff push is important and they really want to reward all the loyal fans with a run in the playoffs for the first time in 10 seasons. The Panthers seem to be gelling really well together and just improving their game. If we keep going at this pace, it will be smooth sailing into the playoffs.
Thanks for reading and all comments are welcome!
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