Stingy defense shines through as Panthers out-compete Jets 2-1

As per how the hockey universe works, 9 out of 10 times a rested team should be able to defeat a tired team on the back end of a back-to-back, which is exactly what the Florida Panthers did. That assumption doesn't necessitate that those games will be easy victories, but as the Panthers know all too well, a victory is a victory even if it's a low scoring, exciting to the last second game. In what essentially serves as the 'divisional game at hand' for the Panthers, it wasn't always pretty but in the end the two points gained tonight serve to extend the division lead by another small but significant margin as the season winds down. You can't exactly say this was a must-win, but it was one of those 'you better win if you want to go to the playoffs' types of games, and as of the last two games and hopefully the one tomorrow, the Panthers have been pretty good in that type of situation.

Low scoring games are often assumed to be due to good goaltending, but in tonight's game the defense had just as much to do with the outcome as did Clemmensen. The key for the rest of the season is to play strong defensively instead of relying on an (admittedly) hot goaltender. The shutdown of the Jets is most easily recognized by the paltry 21 shots allowed, and virtually none were quality scoring chances. For a roster built for this type of game, keeping defensively conscience and continually forechecking will ease the load on the goalies and force the opponent to tire themselves; bettering the odds of winning the one goal games Florida specializes in.



1st: Due to some technical difficulties from some ill-timed snow related winter nonsense, I would miss about the first 8 minutes of the period(sorry!). So I'll commence recap-age from there. Kris Versteeg and Tomas Fleischmann would jump up on a two on one resulting from a smart pass from John Madden would result in a great chance after Versteeg took the shot and Chris Mason making the big save on the rebound that bounced to Madden. The Panthers first line would chip in a few good shifts in the Jets' zone, and besides one good chance from Blake Wheeler most of the action would be in front of Mason. Alexander Burmistrov would be called for an unmistakable infraction as he slashed a Panther's stick in half. And since the powerplay has been oh so good as of late, we'd be treated to a powerplay goal just 41 seconds in by none other than Jets killer Versteeg(assists to Mikael Samuelsson and Brian Campbell). About a minute later Sean Bergenheim would be caught for a retaliation penalty as he punched Zach Bogosian in the kisser. Jets would send a few shots at Clemmensen, but the period would end with Florida up by one.

2nd: With the final seconds of the Jets powerplay killed, Florida would continue skating well and sending shots on net. Burmistrov would put a dangerous hit on Versteeg that would earn himself a boarding minor, but nothing would come of the man advantage. At the halfway point in the period Krys Barch and Chris Thorburn would rumble, but Barchy would pay for his dancing with some Thorburn punches to the head. Five apiece, no instigators. Immediately afterwards, Bryan Little would get the Jets on the board after a turnover beating Clemmensen fivehole, Andrew Ladd would get the lone assist. Just as things were getting a little worrisome in the BAC, Marcel Goc and Bergenheim would connect as Bergie slipped the puck through Mason after catching a beautiful pass from behind the net, the other assist going to Jason Garrison. That goal would come in the final five minutes of play, and Florida would hold on to the lead as the period concluded.

3rd: Florida would start the period off utilizing their speed, again Flash and Versteeg would create a two-on-one and Mike Santorelli would quickly break into the zone. Winnipeg would take control for a few shifts but Clemmensen would give them nothing to work with. The game would slow down considerably as both teams were hesitant to make a move, Winnipeg locked it down defensively while Florida did the same. The Panthers would ice the puck 3 consecutive times as the Jets pressured Florida for a few minutes, but they'd escape momentarily with a TV timeout. Samuelsson would draw a penalty as Tobias Enstrom tripped him up, but the Jets aggressive penalty killing would keep Florida from setting much up. With time ticking away from the clock Florida would pin Winnipeg into their own zone for a few shifts, and with 1:30 and a Florida icing call Jets' coach Noel would pull Mason for the extra attacker. With 3.3 seconds remaining in the game, Winnipeg would need one last ditch shot on goal, but Marcel 'Mr. 61% faceoff percentage' Goc would close the game out winning the draw. Florida reigns victorious.

Observations:

  • These games against the Jets really do remind me of how much I like the players on the team, just not the team itself. The old Atlanta players never got much press for their efforts, but they're certainly getting some looks with the re-vamped Jets. Guys like Mark Stuart are prime examples of that.
  • So what's been the difference between these last two of weeks of Panthers hockey? Oh I dont know, shots, drawing penalties, scoring on the penalties, early leads, winning faceoffs, odd man rushes...you know, winning. I find the penalty drawing the biggest shift as of late, before the big win in Winnipeg, Florida was averaging about 2 powerplays per game thanks to sluggish skating and bad breakouts.
  • I like Bergie and all, but he does take an awful lot of dumb retaliation penalties. Gotta work on that buddy.
  • Of course Bergenhiem also scores goals every now and again, 8 in total this year in only 30 games.
  • As mentioned in the game thread, it sure feels great to have a 20 goal scorer(Versteeg) before the trade deadline. If Fleischmann can get back to scoring he'll be next.
  • It hasn't always been that way, but Clemmensen has really buckled down on the rebounds. Winnipeg would try to take advantage of rebounds by sending a forward to the open side of the net, but they'd rarely have an opportunity to capitalize on those chances. Just another sign Clemmer's on his game.
  • At the halfway point in the game, Florida would be leading in shots 16-10. If the Cats can consistently put thirty on net while keeping their opponents down to the low twenties, they've got a winning formula. The final shot count would be 30-21 FLA, Panthers would also decisively win the faceoffs 36-27 and rally to even up the hits at 24 all.
  • I laughed out loud when Lindsay put in a last second jab at Dustin Byfuglien as he skated down to touch up the icing with 3.3 seconds left. Something about '300 pound Byfuglien hustling for the puck'. Oh Billy, there's a reason everyone other than Cats fans hate you.
  • Major props to whoever synced up the Howard Dean screech during the timeout at the end of the game, and we all owe the kid who stood up, took his coat off and danced in his Campbell shirsey a round of applause. Well done, young Panthers fan.
  • I still hate the fact the forwards can only muster 2 goals on a tired Jets team, but Mason looked pretty good all game and the defense kept shots to the outside.
  • Hats off to Clemmensen(again!) for making 20 saves on 21 shots for his 9th consecutive game with a Sv% greater than .900, a career high. Clemmer made all the right saves at the right times.

Up Next: So after a nice few months without a game against the in-state rival Tampa Bay, we're finally ready to take on the Bolts one last time to close out the season series. This will be the Cats' first road game since the lackluster roadtrip of last month, at least the drive will be short to the Lightning's barn. Panthers at The 'Ning, 7 ET tomorrow. Be thar.

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