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Whatever your opinion may be of Florida netminder Tomas Vokoun (and understandably, it could well be harsh) the man stood on his head, carrying the Panthers on his back, securing a point for the visiting team against the best squad in the National Hockey League.
"A point"? One blasted point? Yep. And there was no shame in it. Two goals in regulation and one in the shootout, but what a ride. We all know about his consistency issues, but with apologies to Steven Reinprecht (2g), he salvaged that fifth point on the season.
Anyway, here's the deal: Cats come out firing in the first, dining on the Pens and goaltender Brent Johnson's rust. Reinprecht puts away two within 3 minutes. Suddenly Cory Stillman looks relevant with an assist on each. Pittsburgh looks awfully lethargic; their registered 8 shots seem higher than reality as Cats throw 12. Got it licked.
The second beheld a change of sorts in the pace, though not to the extent of panic: when David Booth goes to the penalty box, one knows there's something in the air. Other than a staged "fight" between Keith Ballard and Chris Kunitz, nothing more of substance to add. Shots flipflopped, this time favoring the home squad, 14-10. And keep that Booth reference close at hand.
Into the third, and what may only be described as the most bizarre period of hockey yet for the Cats this season. Gregory Campbell and Rostislav Olesz both go off for holding in the first minute of play, and the onslaught begins. Vokoun was an absolute rock throughout, despite (and perhaps because of) the two goals, one on the PP, the other SH, and both by Sidney Crosby. But it was Booth's Twilight Zone style "closing hand on puck" penalty - which was in reality a case of picking up the puck and throwing it out of his own defensive zone - which had observers in broadcast cubicles and live blogs alike going "What did we just witness?" Is Booth - a genuine Good Guy - feeling the heat of a slow start following his signing of a healthy contract and the hopes of fans getting under his skin? He deserved a moment to let it out. He didn't lose the game for Florida. It was entirely the wrong action to take, but there is little fear that he'll travel that road again. Still, when a guy like Booth cracks, what does it say for the rest of his cadre? Are they coming apart? Is captain Bryan McCabe on top of it? Is coach Peter DeBoer? Is it time to throw out "it's early" again?
Overtime held the usual chessmatch. The shootout held it's typical drama, but here's the breakdown from a Florida angle: Reinprecht, Ville Koistinen, and Nathan Horton (who had a strong game) all failed to convert. That Crosby guy scored the winner, as a storybook demands, giving him a shorthanded, powerplay, and shootout goal on the evening. I'll take that over the Gordie Howe trick any day.
Vokoun was all over it tonight. Collectively, the Panthers collectively played as a team the best they had in any of the previous seven games (and that includes the victory over Philadelphia last Friday). Short of inspired, but a glimmer of hope found residence in the effort. BTW: Vokoun finished with 41 saves.
Onto Philadelphia tomorrow. Live Blog at 6pm.