Mar. 30, 2012; Columbus, OH, USA; Columbus Blue Jackets right wing Derek Dorsett (15) celebrates a goal scored by defenseman Nikita Nikitin (not pictured) during the second period against the Florida Panthers at Nationwide Arena. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-US PRESSWIRE
With five games left and a very vulnerable four-point lead over division rival Washington, the Florida Panthers sat in a spot where they controlled their own destiny. For the last several games, rather than use that control as a motivator, the Panthers have wilted under the pressure. On Friday night, they once again failed to bring a solid effort and took a very demotivating 4-1 loss at the hands of the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Panthers were an organization in duress most of the game, as countless bad penalties mounted and an inept offensive attack (and sterling goaltending from Columbus rookie Allen York) put the Cats down in a 3-0 hole they had no way of climbing out of. It's really become gut-check time for the Panthers, who truly control their postseason fate but seem to almost not want it enough. If they don't pick up their play and start to treat the remainder of the regular season with more urgency, they could still yet slide out of the division lead. Let's hope they find a way to turn the ship around in the final four games.
- The Cats started so slowly and so sloppily, you wondered if this wouldn't become a blowout in the first period. Columbus scored off a piece-of-cake odd-man rush early in the first, outshot Florida by a wide margin for the first 10 minutes of the period, and just got outplayed by one of the worst teams in the NHL. The Jackets came out hard and outworked the Panthers so badly that you assumed Kevin Dineen was going to explode before the period ended.
- Allen York was just amazing for the Jackets in the first period when the Panthers had a 5-on-3 for nearly two minutes. He was caught out of position on a lot of rebound opportunities but his defense, and the inept Panther offense, helped him out. He was the difference in the game for Columbus as the Panthers could've easily climbed back into the game during the powerplay opportunities, but couldn't beat York to do so.
- Scottie Upshall is looking better and better each game. He's injecting a lot of energy onto the first line and his forechecking and physical play are taking some focus away from Tomas Fleischmann and Stephen Weiss. He's skating hard for 60 minutes too, something the rest of the team seems to have forgotten how to do.
- The Panthers second line of Marcel Goc, Sean Bergenheim and Mikael Samuelsson has not been as effective as of late. Goc hasn't been his effective self, losing draws and being a bit of a defensive liability at times, which is very uncharacteristic. Bergenheim has been turning the puck over too much and not generating enough quality chances, and needs to get back to using his speed on the wing to push defenders back.
- Erik Gudbranson took a penalty in the second period, nailing Jarred Boll from behind as Boll finished up a rush against Theodore. Boll went into the end boards very hard and left the game for a bit. Gudbranson can expect to receive a call from NHL discipline czar Brenden Shanahan on that one.
- The Panthers were getting tossed to the ice like rag dolls all over the place. It seemed like everyone was too tired to fight back or stay on their skates long enough to make anything happen, especially in front of the young goaltender York.
- Want more proof that Florida wasn't ready to play in this game? Two penalties for too many men on the ice in the second period. Makes you scratch your head how the players and coaching staff don't have their heads screwed on straight this late in the season and with so much at stake. Perhaps part of the confusion is the constant shifting of players from the scratch list, but no matter what there's simply no excuse for these kinds of lapses.
- The Panther defense simply gave WAY too much room to the Jackets forwards on the rush. Every Panther D man coasted backwards and gave the opposition too much time and space to work with the puck. That is a very disturbing thing to see at this point in the year and it's something that has to be immediately fixed.