I predicted Devils in 6. When I made that prediction, I figured Florida would win their two games early on before the Devils honed in on the Panthers' strategy before going in for the kill. It was sort of my romanticized plan to secure a few wins on home ice to give back to the fans while realistically knowing the Florida Panthers would bow out sooner or later. The fact of the matter is, I thought the Cats were done way back in game three. They proved me wrong, the series wasn't painful in the least, and it showed that Florida can compete with the big guns even with a rag-tag roster. They had done it all year long, but it took a seven game series in double overtime to kill the team some predicted would be swept.
This game was a loss. Tomorrow we'll wake up bummed that the Cats' cinderella run is over and we have to jump on someone elses' bandwagon. But you should know by now, it's second nature to think, it's inevitable that I write a recap without saying it; the future is bright. In training camp next September we'll all witness the beginnings of Part Two of Dale Tallon's evil plan to make the Panthers a Cup Contender --the fruits of the draft. At times this year(every game, basically) the Panthers looked a bit sluggish and couldn't create many scoring chances. Well, one of the junior league's most dynamic players is nearly assured a spot with the Panthers, along with the horde of other young players who can bring the speed and energy that could have seen the Panthers win this series.
It's about as good of a building block as anyone could ask for. The Panthers won't win the Stanley Cup this year, but the team that will probably didn't finish last in their conference the year before. Right now it's about how far the Panthers have come, not how far the Panthers got. It wasn't pretty and it wasn't always fun, but it was pretty close to perfect as far as I'm concerned. Tweaks will be made and new faces will be brought in, but in the meantime I've never been more proud to be a fan of the Florida Panthers.It may be over, but I implore you to keep stopping by In Lou We Trust as their run to the Stanley Cup rolls on as well as the good ol' hub at SBN Florida. She's a good hub, she is.
-3:47 Henrique(2) assists to Alexei Ponikarovsky and David Clarkson
- Media circus, fan(and team President) trash talk, "winner take all", nervousness; just any old game seven in Sunrise. For the first time in some 5000 days.
- Jose Theodore and Jason Garrison would both take the ice for the "must win" scenario, which is absolutely of no surprise to me. We're all crossing our fingers hoping this won't be Garrison's last game with the Panthers, but if not at least he got the game seven experience with the team that gave him a chance at the NHL.
- New Jersey would shoo away the early game jitters by doing what every coach would want in a do or die situation; score the early goal. Ponikarovsky would park himself in front of the net to set the screen, and Adam Henrique would score his first playoff goal as he tipped a point shot around the goaltender.
- In the very next shift, John Madden and Tomas Kopecky would collide with Madden clearly getting the worst of it as he lied crumpled in pain with a trail of blood in tow from a cut caused by Kopecky's helmet. Yeah, chickens with their heads cut off. Madden would return with stitches fifteen minutes later. That's hockey for you.
- I don't care if he hasn't scored a goal, but Clarkson hasn't exactly been invisible with four big assists. When a team is deep enough to hold three 30 goal scorers, it doesn't kill a team when one isn't scoring. Clarkson still throws his body around and attracts plenty of attention, what more could you want besides said goals?
- We all know what kind of defenseman Dmitry Kulikov can be when he's on his game, but we're also all too familiar with his play when he's off. It's bad. Kulikov would be thrown on the point during a 4-on-4, ultimately having a pass blocked to send Henrique off on a breakaway. Kuli would interfere with Henrique enough to impede his move but avoid a penalty shot, which was certainly a smart recovery and a good penalty to take. Florida would kill the ensuing 4-on-3 to keep the game at 1-0.
- Marty Brodeur hasn't looked spectacular in the series besides his one shutout, but he hasn't faced many shots since. That's not necessarily due to the Panther's lack of offensive punch as much as it is the Devils' defensive minded forwards, something the Devils have prided themselves on. Florida would pick it up considerably as the first period wound down, but Brodeur would stop the shots he saw.
- Stephen Weiss looked like he really wanted to take his team to the next level, but there are very few guys who can pull off the one-man wrecking ball role. I give him huge props for trying it though, at times it did help put some spring in his linemates' step.
- The Devils would take a 2-0 lead as Stephen Gionta pounced on a rebound and backhanded it over a handcuffed Theodore. Brian Campbell partially blocked the shot, but with him tied up Gionta slipped right through to score the goal.
- I miss Ryan Carter. I knew the day he was waived it would come back to bite the Panthers.
- Shortly after the second goal, the TSN cameras would focus on Dale Tallon and Bill Torrey, who looked uneasy. Uneasy in this case doesn't quite have the same connotations as it usually does, as it's a word better suited for GMs like Mike Gillis and Doug Wilson after the first round. The uneasy look of Tallon was simply confirmation he knows what his team needs for next season for continued improvement, much of which won't be coming from trades or signings.
- It would appear as if the Panthers would be right back in the game as Tomas Fleischmann would slip the puck past a sprawling Brodeur, but the goal would be waved off and the Panthers would be assessed a goalie interference call. Royally screwed? No, just an unfortunate time to have a goal waved off.
- After the no-goal, the Devils and Panthers would parade to the penalty box and at one point the Panthers would have a critical 4-on-3. With about one second left, Stephen Weiss would be fed a one timer from Campbell and blaze it past Brodeur stick side to add some interest to the game.
- As any goal would in a game seven, Weiss' goal revitalized and united his team to put the pressure firmly on the Devils defenders. It seemed like it was only a matter of time before a scramble in front of the net would see the Panthers tie the game.
- We all hate the puck-over-the-glass delay of game penalty...except when it goes in the Panthers favor. And with the bounces going Florida's way, indeed it would as Marek Zidlicky shot the puck up and over. With three minutes left, the Cats would send out the second unit with Kopecky in front of the net, where he'd distract Brodeur enough for Goc to send a tight angle rebound shot past Brodeur to even the game at two apiece.
- Overtime, they get a point! Yay!
- It's perfect that this series was the last to start and the last to finish in the first round; the series has been given as much attention as the little kids table on Thanksgiving though it certainly hasn't been deserved. These two teams honestly are boring, the games for the most part are boring --but the seven games have had their excitement from comebacks and momentum swings. Not every fan is enthralled by horrible goaltending, rampant fights and dangerous hits. These are simply two evenly matched teams playing clean games and never giving up.
- How do people with heart conditions do Stanley Cup Playoff overtimes? IN A GAME SEVEN?? HOW?
- Here's what happened in overtime: it was awesome. Florida killed a penalty, I couldn't pry my eyes from the screen, I stopped breathing a few times, then it went to overtime.
- So then we had second overtime: again it was awesome, but also terrifying. Ilya Kovalchuk was practically dead, then we lost. SUDDEN DEATH aaaahhh.
1st: Adam Henrique, he ain't Landeskog...but he's been pretty good for his team. Young kid has a bright future.
2nd: Marcel Goc, this guy is my hero. Thank you for giving us another 23 minutes of hockey before it ended.
3rd: Bill Torrey and Dale Tallon, not for building this team up(that will come later) but for the pressbox expressions. Seriously, someone get a picture of Tallon facepalming. We need that.
Worst: This was an incredibly clean series with no despicable qualities. As one tweet read a few days back "while other series are marred by dirty hits and suspensions, Florida and New Jersey are focused on plastic rodents". No ill will harbored here.
Up Next: Summertime summertime. If you didn't have fun in this series and throughout this amazing turnaround year that should have seen Florida finish outside of the playoff picture, wake up tomorrow and flip through the box scores since October. It's been a great season, and you can't say this team didn't play their heart out for every second of it. In the end, there are always going to be holes that need to be filled and weaknesses to seal, but this year was one heck of a building block. Stop by LBC throughout the offseason as 2012-13 nears. You know we have every angle covered. Dang, my playoff beard was looking SO good.