Jan 21, 2012; Winnipeg, MB, CANADA; Florida Panthers goalie Scott Clemmensen (30) before the game against the Winnipeg Jets at MTS Center. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Fedyck-US PRESSWIRE

Panther Countdown: Ten Wins That Shaped The Season. Game #6 1/21/12 at Winnipeg

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.

Coming into this game, January had not been kind to the Panthers. They were 1-4-3 in the eight games played and found their lead in the Southeast Division had evaporated as they were tied with the Washington Capitals with the Winnipeg Jets just three points back. And as if playing in Winnipeg on the second half of a back-to-back wasn’t hard enough, a snowstorm in Chicago (where they played the night before) played havoc with travel and had the team arriving in Winnipeg in the early hours of the morning.

All of those factors combined didn’t leave you with a sense that this game would put an end the Panthers losing streak, which had hit four games. Add the pressure of knowing that this game would also be featured on CBC’s Hockey Night In Canada (granted, the Toronto Maple Leafs hosting the Montreal Canadiens would draw the lion’s share of the coverage) and you’d be forgiven if you had this one penciled in as a loss. But, you’d also be wrong. Kris Versteeg, who in his first trip to Winnipeg back in November recorded his first career hat-trick, scored twice in regulation and added a clutch one in the second round of the shootout as Florida snapped their skid in a 4-3 SO win over one of the league’s best home teams.

Scott Clemmensen turned in a tremendous performance despite allowing three goals as he stopped 41 of 44 shots. From the opening face off, his net was under siege as he faced double digit shots in every period (excluding OT, of course) and in hindsight, it’s a small wonder that only three shots found their way past him. But give the Jets credit, they smelled blood in the water with what was a travel-weary opponent that night and took full advantage. Had they gotten a better performance out of of their own netminder, Ondrej Pavelec (he of the new five year contract), this one could’ve easily gone in Winnipeg’s favor.

Two first period Florida goals put the Panthers up but the Jets would finally get a tangible reward for their offensive effort over the next two periods, tying the game early in the third. After blowing the 2-0 advantage, Versteeg’s second goal would give the Panthers another lead less than two minutes after the Jets tied it up. Florida, who were showing even greater signs of fatigue, went into a defensive shell to protect the lead but Alexander Burmistrov beat Clemmensen from point blank range with just over six minutes left.

On this night, the shootout was the Panthers best friend as Versteeg and Mike Santorelli bo answered successful Winnipeg attempts to prolong the game before Mikael Samuelsson netted the game-winner in the seventh round.

It’s hard to wax nostalgic about a shootout win but, these were a big two points the Panthers gained in this game. Had this one gone the other way, the Panthers would’ve finished the month with only one win and the Jets would’ve gotten a huge boost in momentum and an extra point in the standings as they tried to chase down the Cats. It was a gritty, gutty effort where Florida had to hang on in the face of an offensive onslaught. As a fan, it was nice to see when, in reality, they had every reason to lay an egg.

Here are the game highlights, complete with CBC commentary.

Here was my reaction the following day.

The countdown so far:

Game #10: 10/8/11 vs NY Islanders
Game #9: 10/15/11 vs Tampa Bay
Game #8: 3/17/12 vs Buffalo
Game #7: 11/15/11 vs Dallas

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Tags: Alexander Burmistrov Florida Panthers Hockey Night In Canada Kris Versteeg Mikael Samuelsson Ondrej Pavelec Scott Clemmensen Winnipeg Jets

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