Yes, yes, we know the story; it doesn’t require repeating. I’ll spare your the details, but the bare minimum fact is that the Florida Panthers were a goal away in the Conference Quarterfinals from advancing in the playoffs, but lost in double-overtime to the New Jersey Devils. Close but no cigar, as they say. A different bounce of the puck could have very realistically given the Panthers their franchise’s greatest victory. But it was not to be, not this year.
As the Panthers resigned themselves to enjoy South Florida’s lovely summer activities, the Devils went on to play the Philadelphia Flyers. Many of the experts didn’t think the Devils could hang with the offense that Philly could throw at them. The loaded Pittsburgh Penguins couldn’t, after all. But as things turned out, the Devils were more than a match for the Flyers: they beat them in a mere five games. As Philadelphians currently scratch their heads and curse Ilya Bryzgalov under their breath, Panther fans ponder a different question: “Could our team have done that?”
I’m sure that after watching the series between the Devils and Flyers, almost every fan thought that same thing. The Flyers played weak defense almost all series, and seemed disinterested on everything except turning the puck up the other way. The team’s biggest star, Claude Giroux, had no even-strength points. Ilya Bryzgalov was not quite Pittsburgh-series bad, but his stick-handling blunder to David Clarkson will be remembered in Philly sports annals far longer than any of his saves. It was pretty much a perfect storm of weak play for the Flyers. After winning the series against the Penguins fairly easily, Philly realized too late they couldn’t beat a team that can play defense worth a damn.
We know enough about the Panthers that they could match up fairly well against the Flyers. We play solid defense most of the time, we have a steady goaltending duo in Jose Theodore and Scott Clemmensen, and our power play could readily take advantage of Philly’s mistakes. And the biggest piece of evidence is just to compare the two series side by side. The Panthers pushed the Devils to the brink; the Flyers didn’t even make New Jersey uncomfortable.
But I am loathe to say the Panthers would have beat up on the Flyers if we did score that overtime goal and advanced in the playoffs. A prescribe to believing in the butterfly effect: maybe the Flyers play the series differently against Florida than they did against New Jersey, and whatever strategy they devise works shockingly well; maybe a key Panther goes down with an injury early in the series; maybe we don’t even show up. The point is that we can’t sub in one team for another and expect the same results in a series. There are too many variables.
So Panther fans, be content with your franchise and your team’s exit fron the playoffs. We went out with a bang, and we’ll be making more of a splash in the years to come. Until that time, just suffice to root for one of the four remaining teams.
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