I hate referring to a midseason game as a must-win, but in many respects tonight's game against the Montreal Canadiens was just that. The Florida Panthers certainly haven't played their best hockey of late and the divisional lead has suffered because of it. There were only so-many games a depleted Panthers club could win, and being on the losing end of a back-to-back would have been a tremendous disappointment for the players thus making tonight's game of real importance. In the usual fashion the Panthers avoided the loss tonight with their fair share of adversity, with a hostile crowd on hand and an injured starting goaltender, making a victory all the sweeter as the calendar year closed out.
And what a year it's been for the Panthers, from cellar-dweller to division-leader the Cats have really turned things around. Rest assured, 2010's club would have never recovered in tonight's game the way the new Panthers did. And really, is there any better way to cap off the year than beating the Canadiens at home? I think not.
- Another recap from our friends at Habs Eyes On The Prize
1st: Jose Theodore and Carey Price would man the pipes tonight for their respective teams. Both teams would feed off the 'home' crowd energy by exchanging chances, but unlike the night before the opponent's chances were stopped. Well, at least for the first five minutes anyways. Travis Moen would take the slapper on the rush nailing it home past Theodore for the early lead, assists to Lars Eller and Tomas Kaberle. Tim Kennedy, the penalty drawing king, would catch Mike Cammalleri cheating but the resulting powerplay wouldn't help the Panthers. Towards the end of the period, Matt Bradley would nail Alexei Emelin earning a boarding penalty, but as the Habs' powerplay started P.K. Subban would hold Tomas Kopecky to put the teams at 4-on-4. Theodore would make some big saves at the end, including stopping a breakaway chance on Eller. The ensuing scramble for the loose puck would result in Jason Garrison earning a roughing penalty that would carry over into second period.
2nd: PK Subban and Erik Gudbranson would both receive matching minors(2 apiece) for their roles in the scrum at the buzzer, meaning Florida would be down a pair of defenders for a few minutes. The penalty would be successfully killed, and Florida would earn themselves a powerplay later when Tomas Plekanec tripped up Matthias. Craig Ramsay's boys would have the answer to that infraction, the Panthers wouldn't take much time to force an odd-man rush where Tomas Fleischmann would take a pass from Stephen Weiss and snipe a goal. Scary moment for Theodore, Dmitry Kulikov would be pulled into his goaltender after a play. Theodore would get rocked and lay on the ice for a few moments, and Scott Clemmensen would have to take over. Ed Jovanovski would trip up a Canadien player giving Montreal their third powerplay of the game. Again though, much of the powerplay would be negated due to the Panthers' shorthanded forechecking; Max Pacioretty would hold Kris Versteeg as he flew into the zone. Montreal would take another penalty later as Moen would mug Brain Campbell after flattening Eller. The powerplay would carry over into the third, with the second period ending tied at one.
3rd: The remainder of the Moen penalty would be killed as the game resumed. At even strength, Jovanovski would pick off an ill-timed Canadiens pass, send it to Shawn Matthias who'd dance around two defenders and throw home his 7th goal of the season. Up by a goal you could sense Florida begin to control the play with quick breakouts and extended stays in the Montreal zone. Plekanec would take another penalty when he tripped up Weiss, but the ensuing powerplay would be killed. With a minute remaining in the game, Carey Price would head for the benches as Randy Cunneyworth exercised his options, but Fleischmann would have none of that and pot his second of the game in the empty net. We weren't done there, Eric Cole would backhand the puck over Clemmensen's shoulder to bring the score to 3-2. Whats a game in Sunrise without an exciting one goal finish? Panthers hold on to win, Operation Invade Sunrise falters.
- Whether it was the mixed up defensive pairings or tired legs from last night, the Panthers gave up way too many odd man rushes. That plus inconsistant goaltending of late is not a winning equation.
- Michal Repik might want to revisit the concept of offsides before he plays on the second line again.
- OK, please no more early leads. Comebacks are fun, but I'd rather just winning the game outright.
- Krys Barch would earn a game misconduct for his second consecutive game, again for reasons largely unknown. He must have some pretty steely words for those refs to get kicked out of the game...from the bench. EDIT: The common explanation is that Barch directed a racial slur at Subban. His future is in the hands of Colin Campbell now. And Tallon for that matter.
- Weiss' assist on Flash's goal would tie him with Olli Jokinen for the franchise lead for assists. Well done Weisser.
- Kris Versteeg probably isn't the biggest scoring threat on the team, but he is certainly one of the hardest working, and due to that reason he leads the team in scoring. And cheapshots.
- Mike Santorelli had a good game, in that he was actually noticeable. Santorelli went to all the right places and used his speed to beat defenders.
- Matthias sure scores a lot of goals against Montreal. Always good to have one of those 'specialty' guys.
- How about Scott Clemmensen coming in cold after a terrible outting the night before and earning the win. That was the Clemmensen we knew from last year, plus a flair of this year's Clemm with the late goal. No harm done.
- On a related note, Thoedore would not return to the bench, meaning all eyes are on the San Antonio skyline for unexplainable lights and flashes as the Alien will likely make his return to South Florida. We wish it was under happier circumstances, but that won't be the case.
Up Next: A Broadway rematch with the potential to turn ugly. Florida closes out the season series with the New York Rangers Thursday at 7.