Panthers Postseason Possibilities: Florida Finds a Finisher

PITTSBURGH, PA - MARCH 9: Jose Theodore #60 of the Florida Panthers reacts after a goal by Steve Sullivan #26 of the Pittsburgh Penguins (not pictured) during the game at Consol Energy Center on March 9, 2012 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The Penguins defeated the Panthers 2-1 in a shootout. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

Have the Florida Panthers ever had downright terrible goaltending?

Right from the start, if memory serves, we could always count on solid goaltending. John Vanbiesbrouck and Mark Fitzpatrick posted a .500 record in the Panthers very first season of operations. For 367 of Florida's first 378 regular season hockey matches, (and Florida's first 27 postseason matchups, (including 13 wins)) we could always count on Beezer and Fitzy to keep us in the game. Fitzpatrick, solid but seldom spectacular, amassed a 43-42-22 record over five seasons with a .903 save percentage and a GAA of 2.71 while serving as relief for the number one.

For more of this trip down memory lane, and a possible look towards what the future may hold, follow the white rabbit, after the jump.

Beezer was the face of the young franchise. A New York Rangers expatriate, he missed the Ranger's first Stanley Cup in 54 years by one season. Fate has a way of second chances, and nobody contributed more to the Panthers Stanley Cup near miss in 1996, as the Beez posted a 26-20-7 record through the regular season and earned each of Florida's 12 victories in the postseason. In fact, of the 24 all-time Florida Panthers goaltenders, the other 23 have combined for exactly zero postseason victories.

Vanbiesbrouck remains second on Florida's all-time victory list, with 106.

When the 1998-99 season started, Florida featured a pair of 32-year old netminders, Sean Burke and Kirk McLean. Burke was playing for his sixth NHL team, and McLean his fourth. The two combined for 30 victories that year, their combined 2.69 GAA only 12 total goals more than the NHL average.

Trevor Kidd and Mike Vernon joined the team in 1999-2000. After starting the season with the San Jose Sharks, Vernon's strong GAA of 2.47 and a save percentage of .919 resulted in an 18-13-2 record, as the team finished the season 10 games over .500. This would mark Florida's last trip to the postseason through our current streak, as the Cats were bounced by the New Jersey Devils in four games.

2000-01 would mark the emergence of goaltender extraordinaire Roberto Luongo, the Panther's all time leader in victories. Despite his career Panther save percentage of .920 and GAA of 2.68, Luongo's efforts were seldom rewarded with wins, as his 108 were offset by 154 losses, 32 ties and nine overtime losses. In his final Panther season, 2005-06, he led the team to their first winning record since the postseason visit of 2000, at 37-34-11.

In 2006-07, the Panthers were graced by the "Eagle," one future Hall-of-Famer Ed Belfour, late of the Toronto Maple Leafs. In his final NHL season at the age of 41, he posted a 27-17-10 record in leading the team to an 86 point campaign, six points short of the playoffs.

This was shortly followed by the age of Tomas Vokoun, backed up by Craig Anderson. in 2007-08, Vokoun went 30-29-8, 2.68, .919, Anderson had a stellar .935 save percentage in relief, with an 8-6-1 record. The Cats of 08-09 were even better, finishing with 93 points, tied for eighth with the Montreal Canadians, but left out of the dance on a tiebreaker. In four seasons as the primary netminder, Vokoun posted a 101-108-30 record and a 2.57 GAA with a .923 save percentage. He left the Panthers for more money (how did that work out for you, Vokie?), and ostensibly to make the playoffs. Anderson left for the Colorado Avalanche after 2009, and is currently the Ottawa Senator's number one option in net. Vokoun was backed up by Scott Clemmensen thereafter.

Going into this season, goaltending was lauded by some critics as Florida's achilles heel. Scott Clemmensen was never meant to be a number one, and new addition Jose Theodore was all washed up. With 11 games to go, however, Theodore has posted his best numbers (22-13-7, .920, 2.38) since winning the Hart and Veniza trophies for the 2001-02 Montreal Canadians. Clemmers has served excellently as the occasional number one and relief pitcher (11-6-5, .903, 2.83). We've even caught a glimpse of our future, "The Alien" Jacob Markstrom, who's 2-4-1 record belies his raw natural ability. In one span of five games early this year, Markstrom had a remarkable (re-Markstrom-able?) stretch where he saved 152-of-161 opposing shots (that's a save percentage of .944, for those counting).

Theodore has been given full control of the net, and should play in most of the regular season matches the Panthers have remaining. The question on everyone's mind as Florida silences all their critics going forward is - "How much gas does Theo have left in the tank?" Tune in as the Florida Panthers break the drought.

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