A week ago at this time, the Florida Panthers looked very much like a team playing the type of hockey you expect to see playoff teams play as they close the regular season. They had a four game winning streak in their rear view mirror and the Washington Capitals five points behind them. Things got even better last Tuesday when a 13 shot effort against the Philadelphia Flyers was enough to push the win streak to five games. With the next three games against teams closer to the lottery than the playoffs, things were shaping up for the Panthers to take the Southeast Division as their own.
What a difference a week can make. Sunday night at the Bank Atlantic Center, the Panthers dropped a 3-2 shootout decision to the New York Islanders, giving the Cats their third straight loss to a non-playoff team.
Things started encouragingly enough as the Panthers came out active in the first period like the rested team they were, which resulted in an early goal. A hard forecheck paid off as Tomas Fleischmann fired a pass from Gretzky’s office to a streaking Stephen Weiss, who buried it past Evgeni Nabokov just 5:55 into the game. Scoring first is normally a good sign for the Cats as they’re 23-2-9 in that situation. Throughout much of the rest of the period, the Panthers kept the pressure (16-9 edge on shots) on but couldn’t get that two goal lead that has been so pivotal in Florida’s success.
In the second period, the Islanders slowly began to take control of the game. They outshot the Panthers 14-9 in the period but also had the Cats scrambling to string passes together. It also didn’t help that, later in the period, the referees started rewarding the Islanders for falling/embellishing at the slightest touch, resulting in a late power play. Matt Moulson finally cashed in the power play opportunity at almost the same spot on the ice where Weiss scored from with just 1:03 left in the frame.
The Panthers played much of the third as they did the second but that didn’t stop them from re-taking the lead at 9:51. Tomas Kopecky, thanks to some hard work along the boards, forced a turnover that Fleischmann quickly collected and fired an early shot past Nabokov. The lead wouldn’t last as Dmitry Kulikov would deflect a Kyle Okposo pass past Jose Theodore to tie it up at 2. Despite a late charge, the Cats couldn’t get the winner past Nabokov so the game went to OT and then the shootout and we all know how that goes.
As a fan, it’s pretty frustrating to see the team get two points from three games from the conference bottom feeders, especially on the heels for a five game win streak. It’s made even worse when, at the same time, the Capitals are putting the finishing touches on a home pounding of the Minnesota Wild. It’s completely inexplicable how the same team from the win streak can turn in three clunkers in a row like this. And now matters aren’t going to get any easier as the team will go on a four game road trip. Granted, three of those game are against non-playoff teams but, after the past three games, that can’t be any source of comfort. It’s no time to panic but the margin for error is shrinking as the Capitals won’t give up so easily and now, the Buffalo Sabres have planted themselves firmly in the playoff chase. But the goals have to start coming from somewhere, and quick, as you can’t expect Theodore to play lights out every night like he has been. While it’s comforting to know that he and the defense is keeping you in games every night, guys have to start giving him some support or these next seven game will kill us all.
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Topics: Buffalo Sabres, Dmitry Kulikov, Florida Panthers, Jose Theodore, Kyle Okposo, Matt Moulson, New York Islanders, Philadelphia Flyers, Shootouts Suck, Stephen Weiss, Tomas Fleischmann, Tomas Kocpecky, Washington Capitals