March 17, 2012: Sunrise, FL, USA; Florida Panthers left wing Wojtek Wolski (8) scores a goal past Buffalo Sabres goalie Ryan Miller (30) in a shootout at the BankAtlantic Center. The Panthers won 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-US PRESSWIRE

Panther Countdown: Ten Wins That Shaped The Season. Game #8 3/17/12 vs Buffalo

Over the coming days, The Rat Trick will take a look back at the 10 regular season wins that played the biggest part in shaping the 2011-12 Florida Panthers season. There were many moments over 82 regular season games that stand out but, in our estimation, these wins played the biggest part in reviving a franchise that had been given up for dead by many. And if you agree or disagree with the choices, one thing the entire Panthers fan base can agree that it is much more fun looking back on a season that ended with a playoff berth than the past 11 years without one.

The Panthers came into this game riding a three-game winning streak with a chance to make it four for the first time sine 2008. In the previous three games (all at home) the Cats followed a 2-0 shutout of the Carolina Hurricanes with two blowouts over the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Boston Bruins. All that was standing in the way of the four-game streak was the Buffalo Sabres, who were in the process of digging themselves out of the hole their awful first half of the season created, which now seems to be an annual event.

This game was one of the rare occasions where the shootout was a friend to Florida as they did very little to test Ryan Miller’s cage. After being down 1-0 just 1:15 into the game thanks to Lil’ Nathan Gerbe tally, the Panthers did score on their first two shots of the game. Nevermind the fact that when Mikael Samuelsson and John Madden scored those goal, more than 17 minutes of the first period had elapsed.

There wouldn’t be too many more shots for the either team after the first period. Over the final 45 minutes of play (including overtime) both teams combined for 29 shots (five in the final period and OT). So with things knotted at 2 after 65 minutes of hockey, the teams headed to something that had become quite familiar to Panther fans at that point, the shootout. Both teams showed to be equally inept as they only managed one goal a piece through the first six rounds (Tyler Ennis‘ goal answered Wojtek Wolski‘s in the second round). In the seventh round, Dmitry Kulikov, who returned to the lineup after a 23 game absence as he recovered from a knee injury, had the opportunity to be the hero in the same fashion he was in a December shootout win over Calgary. His chance looked like this:

 

Jose Theodore’s save of Drew Stafford’s attempt ended things and gave the Cats their first four-game winning streak in almost four years. The perfect four game home stand avenged a disastrous one of the same length just a month earlier that saw them lose all four and draw only one out of a possible eight points.

When the home stand was completed, the Panthers had extended their lead in the Southeast Division to five point over the Washington Capitals, who were playing some good hockey as well. Coming into the four game set, the Cats had lost four out of five so it’s not hyperbole to say that this four game winning streak helped save their playoff chances. They would actually extend the streak to five but we’ll get to that game later on.

Scott had the recap duty for his game, this was how he saw it the following day.

Would this game had made your top 10?

The countdown so far:

Game #10: 10/8/11 vs NY Islanders
Game #9: 10/15/11 vs Tampa Bay

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Tags: Boston Bruins Buffalo Sabres Dmitry Kulikov Drew Stafford Florida Panthers John Madden Jose Theodore Mikael Samuelsson Nathan Gerbe Ryan Miller Toronto Maple Leafs Tyler Ennis Washington Capitals

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