If hockey games were decided by shot totals or faceoff percentages or any other misleading statistic, this would have been a ugly rout of the Florida Panthers. They were outshot 36 to 13, won only 20 faceoffs compared to 33 for the Philadelphia Flyers, and took four penalties as opposed to the Flyers’ two.
Yet remarkably the Panthers still won the game.
As counter-intuitive as the game stats were, this game began and ended with the man in net for the Panthers, Scott Clemmensen. In certainly his best performance since his shootout victory over Winnipeg earlier this season, Clemmensen was nearly impossible to beat between the pipes. He was big in net, square to the shooter, and perhaps most importantly of all, he didn’t give any second chance opportunities. Against a gritty team like the Flyers that likes to get an ugly rebound goal in the paint, Clemmensen didn’t give the Flyers any of those opportunities. The Flyers looked suffocated on offense trying to generate offense in another matter.
And as fantastic as Clemmensen was this game, the defense was just as great. Players like Jason Garrison, Dmitry Kulikov, Brian Campbell broke up odd man rushes on more than one occasion, using their sticks to break up shots and disrupt passes. The penalty kill was also excellent, as that squad killed off four consecutive chances for the Flyers in the first period of the game. More than in games’ past, the PK was aggressive, faster, and quicker to clear the puck. In 7 minutes and 18 seconds of power play time, including 42 seconds of 5-on-3 time, the Flyers generated only one or two really good chances. Everything else was snuffed out by the Panthers defense or easily saved by Scott Clemmensen.
But lest we forget, there were goals in this game. The scoring started immediately after the end of the Panthers’ second penalty of the first. The Flyers looked to make a change after the power play ended, but they were a little slow. Kulikov saw this and make a long pass left to right from his own zone to Weiss at the Flyers’ blue line. Weiss took the puck, evaded a charging in Pavel Kubina, skated towards the slot, got in good shooting position, and wristed a shot right over Ilya Bryzgalov’s blocker. Weiss picked a perfect spot, and the Panthers were off to a first period lead. They would take it into the locker room almost miraculously after giving the Flyers so many opportunities to score.
The second goal was a little bit more of a garbage goal. In the second period, with Jaromir Jagr off the ice with a penalty, Brian Campbell slapped the puck around the boards behind Bryzgalov from the neutral zone. The puck took a bizarre hop, and instead of circling all the way around like Bryzgalov expected, it plopped right in front of the net to Ilya’s right. Sean Bergenheim was charging racing into the zone, and lo and behold, there was the puck! Bergy deposited the puck high on Bryzgalov’s blocker side before the goalie could get set, giving the Panthers a 2-0 lead.
But Clemmensen would not be able to shut out the Flyers tonight, perhaps because of the omnipotent hockey gods. Eric Wellwood, after winning a battle in the corner to Clemmensen’s right, tried to one-time a pass to a Flyer in the paint. Only the puck didn’t make it there; it deflected off of Ed Jovanovski’s skate and through Clemmensen’s five hole. A rough goal to give up, but that was all the Flyers were going to get last night.
The third period was uneventful for the Panthers on offense, as they might have taken a page from the Jacques Martin book of third period defensive strategy. Nearly everything was dumped out of the zone, as the Panthers played ultimate prevent defense to turn away any more good chances. As much as this mindset is usually frowned upon here at The Rat Trick, it paid off in this scenario. The Panthers were too good defensively to take any more risks in the Flyers offensive zone. It was defense all the way in the third.
After the Flyers’ fruitless final flurry and the final horn sounded, Jason Garrison dropped to his knees in front of Clemmensen. Whether as a release of his nerves or some sort of genuflection of respect towards Clemmensen, it fit the Panther fan’s state of mind perfectly. This was a nerve-racking game. It was played in our zone, the Flyers are talented offensively, and we had our backup goalie in all game. But somehow the Panthers earned a victory, despite not playing at their peak level. The thirteen shots was a season low, easily breaking the benchmark of seventeen set the last game against the Buffalo Sabres. But that could possibly be twisted to be a positive for the Panthers. Even when we aren’t on top of our game, we can still stockwith and beat the best teams in the East. After this victory, the Panthers have beaten every team in the Eastern Conference this year. This game is an affirmation of the Panthers’ competitiveness going into the playoffs, and certainly we should not be viewed as an easy first round opponent.
The Panthers’ next game will be tonight against the Carolina Hurricanes, the team the Panthers have defeated five times out of five chances this year. Right now the Panthers are at a high point as a franchise, higher than they’ve been in years. And that high point stands to raise a little bit more tomorrow as the Panthers now seek their sixth win in a row.
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