The Florida Panthers came up with a huge win tonight at home upsetting the league-deading Anaheim Ducks 3-2. Tim Thomas stopped 32 of 34 shots faced en rout to the win which snapped a nine game Panther losing streak. The win was Peter Horachek’s first since taking over as the Panthers head coach.
- Well, I certainly did not see that coming. The Panthers snapped their losing streak in style doing so against a Ducks team that came into the game with a 15-3-1 record, the best in the league. The Panthers on the other hand hadn’t won a game since October 19th. None of that mattered once the puck dropped and the Panthers found a way to hold onto a third period lead outlasting a furious Ducks onslaught.
- Tim Thomas had the best game of his Panther career. He made some absolutely mind-blowing saves in the third period to preserve the Panther lead. Thomas backstopped a group of Panthers that submitted a gritty performance against a high-powered Ducks offense. Once Brad Boyes scored the go-ahead goal at 4:29 into the third you could see that the Ducks were coming. The last fifteen minutes of the game were played almost exclusively in the Panthers defensive zone. Everybody chipped in as the Panthers escaped with the win by the skin of their teeth.
- The Panthers came out in their typical sloppy fashion and conceded an Andrew Cogliano goal just 40 seconds into the game. The Ducks had the score at 2-0 by the end of the first as the Ducks got a goal from their impressive 19-year-old defenseman Hampus Lindholm at 14:26 in the period. The Panthers continued their sluggish play into the second but midway through the period a switch got flipped and the Panthers began a span of 20 minutes where they absolutely dominated the ducks. Shawn Matthias scored a beautiful goal at 13:28 into the second and then Scottie Upshall received lucky deflection of an Anaheim stick that found its way into the back of the net to tie the game at two. The Panthers kept their momentum through the second intermission and their persistence paid off with the Boyes go-ahead goal. Its funny how hockey is such a game of momentum. The Ducks controlled the first 30 minutes of the game and it resulted in a 2-0 lead. It was all Panthers from the mid point in the second to the middle of the third. Florida used that stretch of dominance to come back and take a lead. From there the momentum switched back to Anaheim but the Panthers were fortunate enough to have Tim Thomas between the pipes making sure no comeback gained too much steam.
- Lots of Panthers had big games, which was the only way the Panthers were going to defeat the Ducks. Nick Bjugstad continued to impress and Jonathan Huberdeau had a brilliant game. Huberdeau stood out the most as it seemed like he produced a scoring chance every time he touched the ice. His strong puck play drew a couple of Panther power-plays which were critical to the Panthers holding off Anaheim.
- Mike Mottau got his first start for the Panthers and submitted a steady defensive performance. My first impression of Mottau is that he reminds me a lot of Mike Weaver. Mottau gets by with stay at home defense and tenacity to battle bigger forwards.
- Speaking of the Panther defense, a big reason why the team dominated the Ducks for a stretch was because of the aggressiveness of Florida’s defensive group. Florida was aggressive but in a disciplined manner so they were not caught on too many fast breaks the other way. You can get offense out of covering for your d-men too, Scottie Upshall’s goal was a result of holding the blue line for a pinching defenseman. Florida demonstrated their ability to play aggressively when they smelt blood in the water but also demonstrated their ability to pack it in and preserve a lead in the games final ten minutes. While Tim Thomas played a huge role in holding the lead, the Panther skaters played a pretty solid defensive counter-attacking style. Having success in the NHL requires the ability to adapt your play to different situations and the Pantehrs demonstrated the ability to do that tonight.
- Tonight’s game against the Ducks had a very similar feel to the Panthers 3-2 shootout loss to the Blackhawks. In both games the Panthers seemed to rise to the challenge of playing one of the league’s best teams. In both games the Panthers fell behind early but seemed to figure out they could hang with the big guns as the games’ progressed. As in the Chicago game, tonight you could almost see the Panthers growing in confidence as they started to pressure the Ducks. The win tonight makes you feel so good because Florida’s young players were so instrumental in the win. Bjugstad, Huberdeau and Gudbranson really stood out tonight and you get the feeling that if all the young Panthers start to figure everything out then they suddenly become a really deep, tough team to beat.
- Now the Panthers will have something feel good about as they embark on their season long five game road trip. Florida will be facing some tough teams in some tougher places as they travel to Minnesota, Colorado, Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary. At least now they will have their happy thoughts of tonight to keep them warm through those cold Canadian nights.