Last night the Florida Panthers beat the Colorado Avalanche 4-1 in Denver. After losing nine straight games, the Panthers have now won two out of their last three. With the win, the Panthers improve to 5-12-4 while the Avalanche, who dropped their third straight, fall to 14-5-0.
The Panthers received goals from Brad Boyes (7), Brian Campbell (3), Tomas Kopecky (2) and Jonathan Huberdeau (5). Tom Gilbert had three assists for Florida while Scottie Upshall chipped in with two. Ryan O’Reilly scored the only goal for the Avalanche, his eighth of the year.
- The Panthers came up with another huge victory against a tough opponent. Florida has now looked excellent in their past three games. On Tuesday the Panthers beat the Ducks 3-2 at home before starting their road trip with a strong performance in a 3-2 loss to the Minnesota Wild. Last night in their 4-1 win, the Panthers put together their best full game performance of the season. Florida controlled most of the game and when Colorado was able to get their attack going, the Panthers and Tim Thomas successfully endured the pressure without allowing too much damage. Last night was rare occasion that we got to see the Panthers play with a lead and they looked impressive doing so. Colorado cut Florida’s two goal lead in half in the second period and looked to be threatening to turn the game around but the Panthers responded nicely and Kopecky scored shortly after to restake the Panthers to their two goal lead. Despite being ahead for most of the game, the Panthers were able to keep applying pressure to the Avs. Through the first two periods, the Panthers outshot Colorado 28-19.
- Here is a list of teams, along with their place in the league standings, that the Panthers have beaten or grabbed a point against:
Tampa Bay (7)
That is a pretty impressive list and it is indicative of the Panthers knack for playing well against tough opponents. Florida has been played like a good team against good teams and like a bad team against bad teams. It would be nice if they could play like a good team against some bad teams once in a while so they can start winning on a somewhat consistent basis. Their back-to-back against Calgary and Edmonton next Thursday and Friday would be a good place to start.
- If the Panthers can continue to play the way they have over the last few games, they have a very real shot at turning things around. It seems crazy to say that, especially considering how only last week we were talking about Florida’s nine game losing streak, but Florida has shown the capacity to not only hang with some of the league’s best teams but to dominate them.
- The Florida Panthers scored the games first goal last night when Brad Boyes fired home a nice pass from Scottie Upshall at 12:40 into the first period. It cannot be stressed enough how important it was to get on the board first. Especially because, as I mentioned yesterday in my preview, the Avalanche are 12-0-0 when scoring first and 10-0-0 when leading after the first period.
- With the win, the Panthers improve to 4-5-2 against the Western Conference. Their only win against an Eastern Conference team was a 6-3 victory over the Penguins in Florida’s home opener.
- Dmitry Kulikov played a strong defensive game last night, and what I mean by that is he did not make his customary one to two confounding turnovers. He also had the hit of the game when he dumped Nathan MacKinnon at the Panther blue line with a beautiful hip check.
Aside from the hit by Kulikov, MacKinnon looked excellent in last night’s game. His speed is stunning and even when the Panthers were controlling the offensive flow of the game, he somehow would manage to get good looks on Tim Thomas. For all the talents Huberdeau and Barkov have, world class speed is not one of them. MacKinnon on the other hand, he defines world class speed.
- Jimmy Hayes made his debut for the Panthers last night and he looked good despite only getting 7:20 of ice time. Hayes played on a line with Shawn Matthias and Krys Barch and the trio left their mark on the game in their limited minutes. I loved watching the Panthers’ fourth line play last night. They mix a lot of size with a bit of skill and they grinded the Avs down in Florida offensive zone creating a number of chances. Look at the size on that line: Matthias: 6’4″, Hayes 6’6″, Barch 6’2″. When Krys Barch is the least physically imposing forward on your line, thats when you know you have got a lot of big boys out there.
- Nick Bjugstad had another strong game and he recored another assist, his fifth of the season. Bjugstad now has points in five of his last six games bringing his total for the season to seven (2 goals, 5 assists). The play by Bjugstad that stood out for me last night came at 11:51 into the third period when he used a burst of speed to race past Avalanche defenseman Jan Hejda. Hejda’s only chance to stop Bjugstad was to take a penalty, which he did, slashing Bjugstad’s stick into two pieces. The play was so huge because it came around five minutes after Colorado scored to make the score 2-1. The Avalanche received a burst of life after their goal and up until the point where Bjugstad drew the penalty, they were peppering Thomas with shots threatening to tie the game. Bjugstad’s hard play to draw the penalty swung the momentum back in Florida’s favor and while the Panthers did not score on the ensuing power play, they did score shortly after, at 13:53 into the second, to stretch their lead to 3-1.
- Speaking of Kopecky, after going scoreless through the first 19 games, he now has tallies in two straight. Kopecky’s goal drought was not due to a lack of chances, he just was not finishing. With goals in back-to-back games, Kopecky is starting to get some bounces to go his way.
The Panthers will continue their road trip on Tuesday when they take on the Vancouver Canucks at 10:00 p.m. ET. Share your thoughts about the big win in the comments section below and follow The Rat Trick on Facebook and Twitter for all the latest.