Florida Panthers Play Inspired Hockey Against Stars; Earn Big Point


Before the game, things looked bleak for the Florida Panthers.  Their top players were nursing injuries and illnesses while the fans resembled empty seats. It looked like a minor-league hockey game was going to break out at the BB&T Center. The Panthers were taking the ice against the Dallas Stars with a minor-league goalie and were playing without Jaromir Jagr and two starting defensemen.

Things looked even worse when Dan Ellis gave up a goal barely three minutes into the game and the Panthers came out with any luster. When Curtis McKenzie scored 2:33 into the game it appeared as though the locals were going to get destroyed and the fans would go home wondering what could have happened if Roberto Luongo was minding the net.  It looked even worse when the Cats were trailing 2-0 almost 13 minutes into the game when Shawn Horcuff scored against Ellis, who had no defense in front of him.

It was not expected that the Panthers would take this to overtime or to a shootout. It looked like a barrage was about to hit Sunrise and the young Cats were going to have to suck it up and take a beating.

No one told that to Dmitry Kulikov who had a goal and an assist in the second period that saw the Panthers take a 3-2 lead into the final period before the Stars knotted the game up at three goals apiece.  Kulikov also got into a fight in the first period that saw him and McKenzie each sit for five minutes in the penalty box.

The Panthers lost the game 4-3 in a shootout, but played good hockey. They were passing the puck around and skating well against the Stars who were at full-strength minus Trevor Daley. Ellis blocked two of the three shots in the shootout, but the Panthers could not score when they had the puck. Keri Lehtonen turned away Panthers sharp shooters Brandon Perri and Nick Bjugstad and the Panthers ending up taking this one on the chin.

This was a game that the Cats had no business being in, but they also had no business losing.  Ellis stepped up and was sensational in goal. It was probably his best game that any one can remember.  Ellis, for what it was worth, played well in the shootout and saved two of the three shots he faced. He was only beaten by Colton Sceviour for the game winner at the end.

The question is, where do the Panthers go from here. They have 70 points and are in ninth place, two points behind the Bruins who hold the last playoff spot.

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