It has been the same story all year, why should things be different in the playoffs?
The Florida Panthers have impressed fans and pundits all across hockey, which is totally understandable. After years in the doldrums of the Eastern Conference, the Panthers made a few good hires within the team, hired a great coach, signed some solid free agents, and took advantage of a weak division. This year is surely one of the top three in franchise history, and the future is even brighter than the present.
The Panthers have all these positives to fall back on, but one glaring negative casts a shadow over quite a few of the team’s accomplishments so far this year: why can’t the Panthers make anything easy on themselves.
From within a game, from within the regular season, and now within a playoff series, the Panthers very rarely took care of business before it seems absolutely necessary. The Panthers have usually gotten the job done at the end of the day, but it gets frustrating when almost every contest is strung out, leaving fans like me nervous constantly.
Consider many of the games we’ve played this year. How many do you remember the Panthers having complete control of a game for all three periods? A few contests cone to mind, but only a few. More often then not, the Panthers habe grinded out one or two-goal victories. Almost as often as that, we’ve forced ganes into overtimes and shootouts, where we’ve grounded out neasly points. a game against Washington early in the year comes to mind: we had a commanding 4-0 lead as we dominated play for the first two periods. In the third, however, we let up and allowed in three Capitals goals to being them almost all the way back. It took strong goaltending and defensive hockey to sneak away with the win that night. Also consider the two different games, one in the regular season and one during the playoffs, in which the Panthers spotted a first-period 3-0 lead to the New Jersey Devils before waking up. They scored four straight goals in both gamesnes to pull out imporbable victories, but why did we need to give them so much before we became ready to play? The Panthers’ most recent loss against the Devil’s in Game 6 also calls to mind how little the Panthers made things easy. We gave the Devils a 2-0 lead before roaring back with a grand total of about 12 shots or so. Somehow we tied the game, but it would have been a tall order to sneak three goals past Martin Brodeur on that many shots. That would’ve been the hardest thing the Panthers have done all year. Every once in a while, I enjoy a nice, comfortable 4-1 victory where Panther fans are not ready to collapse as the game goes into the final seconds or shootouts. Is that too much to ask for?
Consider the regular season. The Panthers had a magic number going into the last few weeks of the year, with the division title in the palm of their hand. Then all of a sudden, the Cats started to fade down the stretch. Brutal losses against Minnesota, Columbus, and especially Winnipeg frustrated tha fan base to no end, and brought the Washington Capitals back into thr rave to win the Southeast. The Panthers were playing their worst hockey of the year at the absolute worst time. Not to worry, though, said many fans: we’ll just take care of business against the Washington Capitals to win the division undisputedly. As it turns out, we didn’t. The Panthera had to waut until the last game of the year against the Carolina Hurricanes to win the Southeast. Thankfully, we pulled that one off and went into the playoffs a three-seed. Mission accomplished, but it happened way closer to the end of the year than was necessary.
Consider this series against the Devils. In four out of the six games played so far, we have given New Jersey a 2-0 lead. In three of those games, we have surrendered a 3-0 lead. In one of those games, the lead was pushed up to 4-0. The Panthers have somehow been able to puah this series to a Game 7, which should be a bit of a surprise considering the total time during the series the Panthers have trailed is so high. It wears on the Panthers to continue to try to come from behind game after game. The Panthers should give themselves a break and maybe take an early lead. They haven’t relinquished a lead all series, so maybe they should take more leads, huh?
Even though I realize winning Game 6 would have been sweeter than sweet, the Panthers just don’t seem to have that killer instinct right now to put a team away. Everything goes to the last minut for this team, and I don’t expect Game 7 to be any different Thursday night.
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