You can call it gamesmanship, or trying to get a pshychological advantage. Or maybe you’re trying to create more doubt in your opponent, and at the same time sell yourself as being better. I prefer to call it what it is. Making excuses. Since the preseason the Florida Panthers have dealt with negativity from across many different angles. From television analysts such as Craig Button and Mike Milbury, to beat reporters in opposing cities, to bloggers, and of course anyone who can say “you guys stink” , or some variation of that, in less than 140 characters with a twitter account. Now the chatter has reached the opposition dressing room.
After a brilliant performance for 60 minutes Saturday night which saw the Panthers led by veteran goaltender Jose Theodore’s outstanding performance, New Jersey Devils players began making some “noise” about their opponents, and about the game. While the Devils and the Panthers appear to be evenly matched, and I don’t know how you honestly can’t see that, the Panthers have pulled in front with a three games to two lead heading back to Jersey for game six on Tueday night. When looking at the rosters on paper you’d think that the Devils would have the offensive advantage with players such as Zach Parise, Ilya Kovalchuk and Patrik Elias. Scoring for this team shouldn’t be an issue, and prior to the series beginning, they seemed to be on a roll which could have caused most to feel they had an edge over the upstart Florida Panthers. However in the three games that the Panthers have won, they’ve figured out a way to contain this trio, and on Saturday night completely shut them down, as none of them were able to put a puck past Jose Theodore. So what’s been said?
Travis Zajac: complained about the officiating: ” I think some of them were not the greatest calls”.
Zach Parise: ”We didn’t challenge him enough,” Devils forward Zach Parise said. ”He got real lucky on a lot of them.”
And Broduer had this to say about the rats on the ice:
“Even if you look at the reaction of some of the Panthers’ players, some of them are kind of shaking their heads about it,” Brodeur said. “Just for the NHL to let them give out rats, come on. That’s unbelievable.”
Marty, they don’t give them out. Fans buy them for $5.00. And the players are probably shaking their head that a tradition that dates back to 1996 has made a glorious comeback. To Parise, I think you challenged him (Theodore) just fine, and some of the saves were really quite brilliant. To Zajac, penalties can go either way. Bottom line is, you’re team is killing enough power plays.
Frustration? Anger? Disappointment? All of the above possibly. Fact of the matter is that New Jersey on Saturday night didn’t win the battles, couldn’t take advantage of power play chances that they had, and were stonewalled by a defence and goaltender that gave them little room to work with. The shooting lanes were clogged, there were very little opportunities for second chances and the Devils power play was held scoreless in three attampts, including late in the game with their net empty for an extra attacker. Speaking of power plays, the Panthers are now 7 for 17 in the series against a team that was the number one unit in the NHL’s regular season. Should Florida go on to win this series, that portion of the special teams will be one of the biggest reasons why.
No one expected the Panthers to sweep the series, however many felt that the Devils would have closed it out by now. The success of the special teams for Florida will be one aspect where the Panthers have excelled, but there’s also been their ability to keep their game simple. Chasing Marty Brodeur after 23 minutes in game three was also something that I’m sure no one saw coming either. Brodeur was upset and came back with a stellar performance in game four, but just as he did, Theodore responded the same Saturday night. You don’t win over 275 games in the NHL by being lucky.
In comparison, there hasn’t been a single Panther player or coach who has said anything negative towards the Devils either after a win or a loss. Matter of fact coach Kevin Dineen said after Saturday night’s win:
“I don’t blow smoke. They’re a hard team to play against”.
This coming after a three nothing shutout victory. Stay classy coach.
No matter what happens the rest of the way, the Panthers as a team have stuck together, maintained their composure, worked hard and haven’t panicked. Even Erik Gudbranson who is in his first season and only 20 years old, has played as though he’s been here before. Players like him are built for this time of season, and it also shows that the rest of the Panthers are mature, have just the right amount of leadership, and can control their emotions.
This is the beauty of the playoffs where everyone starts out the same at the beginning. Even. Anything can happen, and suprisingly something unusual will. But for all the doubters and pundits who never gave the Panthers a chance, you can start eating your words. This Panther team is much better than you thought.
And they’re proving it on the ice.
Thanks for reading. We welcome your comments and opinions.
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