The Day After: Not The Same Old Panthers


Saturday at the Bank Atlantic Center, the Florida Panthers wanted to showcase an all-new Panthers game experience that would leave fans seeing red (in a good way, of course). The team was outfitted with new (old) red sweaters and socks. The building itself got a red makeover, from lower bowl seats to illuminated red thundersticks, that at times made it seems like that scene from The Shining when blood inexplicably starts flooding one of the hallways of the Overlook Hotel. The only question left was could the team pull off a win against their in-state rival Tampa Bay Lightning and send the home crowd out into the South Florida night seeing red.

It took 65 minutes of hockey plus a shootout, but the answer was yes.

The freshly painted red scoreboard showed this as a 3-2 shootout win but, truth be told, the Panthers dominated the overall run of play for much of the game. Ed Jovanovski, playing his first home game as a Panther since 1999, fired home a seeing-eye puck through traffic on the power play midway through the first to give the team the lead (and debuting the new goal song My Chemical Romance‘s Na Na Na). The Lightning did the best they could to provide the Cats with enough opportunities to pad the lead, as they took four minor penalties in the period but the home side couldn’t take advantage.

Neither team scored in the second period but it was certainly lively. Stephen Weiss had two chances to pad the lead but couldn’t take advantage. The main action of the period was Panther defenseman Erik Gudbranson getting into his first NHL scrap with Steve Downie.

As you can see, the big 19 year old looks like he can handle himself on the ice, but what the video doesn’t show is that he was coming to the aid of a teammate yet again. All told, the fight cost Gudbranson 19 penalty minutes (including an instigator penalty plus a 10 minutes misconduct) but Kevin Dineen, coaching his first home game as a NHL coach, didn’t seem to mind:

"“You know what, you a guy like that, that stood up for his teammates. I think that was a real shot in the arm for the team. I thought Erik Gudbranson did a heck of a job for us tonight.”"

The Gudbranson penalties left the Panthers with five defensemen, but Dineen looked for defensive support from up top:

"“What it does is it puts a little responsibility on your fowards. They know you’re down there, so the forwards gotta respect that you’re logging a lot of ice time and they gotta be there in those little support positions, be back there, help them in those little battles and I thought our guys stood up to that.”"

That would explain why the Bolts played the first half of the period in the defensive end. Marc-Andre Bergeron broke though during that time, scoring from the right point through traffic and tying the game. It would remain that way until just under three minutes left in regulation when new Panther Kris Versteeg blasted a cross-ice feed from Dmitry Kulikov to blast home a power play goal and retake the lead (former Panther Dominic Moore took the penalty). But before PA announcer Jay Rokeach could announce the Versteeg goal, Bergeron put another one past Jose Theodore and knotted it at two.

With that, a raucous announced sellout crowd of 18,352 got real quiet and there had to be more than one Panther thinking ‘same old Panthers’. Had this been last season, that other shoe might have dropped, but Theodore stood strong in overtime and then stymied the Bolts superstar trio of Steven Stamkos, Martin St. Louis and Vinny Lecavalier in the shootout. Marcel Goc‘s flip past a sprawling Mathieu Garon was the only tally the team would need to open its 2011-12 home season with a win.

While it was frustrating to see the team lose a lead late, this is a game it probably loses last season. We saw it countless times. But this team showed it was able to take a punch, hang in there, and come out with a win. But a quick turnaround and a busy them awaits this team this week. They’ll face this same Tampa team on Monday and then to Washington on Tuesday for a game against the Capitals and former Panther Tomas Vokoun.. They close out the week with two home games: Thursday against the Buffalo Sabres and another Saturday night affair with the New York Islanders.

Check out our rival recount of last night’s game over at Bolts By The Bay.

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