The Day After: Panthers Open Homestand With Huge Win


There really isn’t such a thing as a ‘signature win’ in hockey like there is in football. But for a Florida Panthers team that is looking reestablish itself as a force in the league, Saturday’s 3-2 home win over the Pittsburgh Penguins is as close as it gets. As the Panthers season reaches the quarter pole, they’ve collected some impressive wins but have been missing that win against one of the ‘elites’, if you will. This same Penguins team outplayed the Cats in 4-2 Pens win back on 10/11. Saturday, despite being outshot 41-31, the Panthers showed how much they’ve grown as a team since that contest.

Things got off to a bad start almost from the opening faceoff. Chris Kunitz put a rebound of a Pascal Dupuis point shot past Jose Theodore to make it 1-0 just 1:09 into the game. Theodore would be much harder to solve as the game went on to save 39 of the next 40 shots he faced. Head coach Kevin Dineen had high praise for his goaltender after the game:

"“Jose really competes, I mean every single puck. There’s so much battle in his game. I’m not a goaltending expert, but I can sure see when a guy is in there and he’s really…the effort to make the saves. That was a goaltender’s game tonight and he played a whale of a game for us.”"

Dineen was correct in saying it was a goaltender’s game as both Theodore and his counterpart, Brent Johnson, kept this game a rather low scoring game by making great save after great save. But Brian Campbell finally solved Johnson seven minutes into the game as he pinched in from the blueline, took a Kris Versteeg pass and calmly backhanded the puck past Johnson to knot it at 1. It was another perfect example of how much freedom defensemen have to take chances in Dineen’s system and it helps to have a veteran like Campbell who knows when to take those chances.

Like in the first period, the teams would trade goals in the second period. Tomas Fleischmann gave the home side the lead on the power play as his shot from the hash marks found it’s way through traffic and past Johnson to make it 2-1. For the Panthers, it was their first power play goal in four games. The lead would last for only seven minutes as Jordan Staal collected a rebound, and patiently waited for Theodore to make a move before firing it past him.

The game would stay tied deep into the third and began to take on the feeling that it might be headed for overtime, or worse, a shootout, as both netminders stood on their head to keep it tied. A Penguins bench penalty for too many men on the ice would give the Panthers the break they needed. A Versteeg shot from close led to a rebound a battle around the net. Stephen Weiss, who had his second three-point night in three games, got just enough on the puck to push it past Johnson and just inside the right post. A quick video review confirmed what everyone watching the game already knew: Good goal, and a 3-2 Panthers lead with 3:30 to play. It’s not the prettiest goal to score, but the effort on that play was typical of the effort the team gave all night long.

Like they had ever since Staal’s goal in the second, the Penguins threw everything they could at Theodore but, unlike games past, the defense held strong despite some anxious moments. Dineen on the game’s deciding seconds:

"“It had a little bit of the fire drill to it. It was little bit of a scramble. At the end of the day, there was a lot of battle. There’s some areas we’re going to have to continue to work at but, the desire to keep the puck out of the net was extremely strong by the six guys on the ice. I don’t think our fans ever get cheated here at home. We always seem to make it entertaining.”"

The win is massive for a myriad of reasons. First and foremost, it starts a four game homestand against good competition off on a high note while propelling the Panthers back into sole possession of first place in the Southeast Division. It gives them a win at home for the first time since 10/22’s win over the New York Islanders. And it gives the team a win over one of the better teams in the league. And if there were any ‘casual fans’ in attendance last night, it’s the kind of win that will make those fans want to come back out, which is huge considering the state of South Florida sports scene right now.

But there isn’t too much time to dwell on this win as former Cats bench boss Pete DeBoer brings his New Jersey Devils, who have won six of their past nine, for game two of the four-games Thanksgiving homestand.

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