Seems like that’s how it’s been lately for the Florida Panthers. Most every game that they’ve played for the past two to three weeks has involved some sort of pressure on them to come out victorious or find themselves in a huge hole. Tonight’s game against the New Jersey Devils is no different as the series is tied at two games a piece with game six back in New Jersey on Tuesday. Not sure what the actual statistic is on a road team winning game five, and then going back home for the “clincher” is, but let’s hope that we don’t need to find out.
The struggles for Florida in game four was a motivated Marty Broduer who was pulled in game three with barely 25 minutes gone in the game. Whether or not Peter DeBoer wanted to upset the future Hall of Fame goaltender or not, what Deboer did was create an even more focused and determined goalie. Brodeur was unbeatable from every angle. While he wasn’t “tested” often, he responded well to everything thrown his way, and frustrated Florida all night long. With each playoff game that the Pantehrs play, new struggles surface, and the team must be up to those challenges as head coach Kevin Dineen comments:
”We didn’t clinch a playoff spot until a couple games left in the season, and then we got our division title in the last game of the season. And people keep saying ‘That’s your first playoff win in so on and so forth,”’ Panthers coach Kevin Dineen said Friday afternoon. ”Lots of little milestones along the way, but obviously, you get it down to three games and this will be a big game. And we’re excited”.
Among the struggles that the Panthers are faced with is that both Jason Garrison and Keaton Elerby are both not expected to play tonight. Garrison was a late scratch on Thursday with a lower body injury, and Ellerby his replacement injured himself during the game as well. Tyson Strachan has been called up from San Antonio and will most likely be tonight’s sixth defenceman. This change will affect the Panthers not only at even strength, but also on the power play, where Garrison’s booming slap shot will be missed.
In addition to the defence, it appears that Jose Theodore will be back in net tonight (as I type this, he was in the strter net at the pre game skate this morning). Scott Clemmensen had a rough night Thursday as he strted only the seciond game in his career. In both cases each goaltender might have had a goal or two that they feel they could have saved, however the players in front of them need to be better. The defencemen need to clear the crease, and grap the rebounds before the Devils do, and the forwards must get back and forecheck, helping out an aggressive New Jersey offence.
The FlashMob line has almost been invisible. Kris Versteeg while playing hard and creating chances, hasn’t scored in what has seemed forever, even though he does have one goal in the series. Tomas Fleischmann is getting his chances too, but must convert. Stephen Weiss on the other hand has had only one good game of the four. He’s waited 10 years to be in the playoffs, and he must be a bigger factor for Florida. This is a time of year that when players are counted on to lead, must do so. We’ve not seen enough out of him to make a real difference, and if things don’t start clicking early, I would rather see some line juggling, than keeping this trio together.
The Goc, Bergenheim, Samuelsson line has been the best line during the playoffs so far. Energy, scoring chances, and puck control has been their method. Sean Bergenheim seems built for this time of year, and has played extremely well. Goc and Samuelsson are showing their experience too, and this may well have become the number one line for Florida. As for the bottom six, not much happening, yet the fourth line of Madden, Kopecky and Smithson is at least playing well defensively. That said, there are some other players that need to shine.
One last thing to mention is the physicality end of the game. Now that these teams have played four times in the past ferew days, they are beginning to get familiar with each other, and surely the disdain is growing. Keep your eyes on both Erik Gudbranson and David Clarkson. This duo could drop the gloves at any point in tonight’s game, as their tempers were flaring at the end of game four. While I have wanted more physical play from the Panthers all season, it now is obvious, that there must be some push back from them. I’m not talking anything illegal, but I am talking an increase in making some hits. They are going to have to play the body more, finish their checks, and force the Devils to get away from their game. We already know that Ilya Kovalchuk doesn’t like to be touched, so let’s take advantage of that as early and often as possible.
A game five playoff matchup at the Bank Atlantic Center in April is quite an accomplishment considering where the Panthers were the season before. Let’s not et complacent with the fact that we’re here. Come out hard and fast, and come out with energy. We must control the game from the beginning, and pounce on any opportunity that New Jersey gives us. Creat traffic in front of Brodeur, and grab those juicy rebounds he’s been giving up.
Be loud. Wave your rally towels, and wear your red. I’ll see you tonight!
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