The good stuff first: Florida played a game tonight; came out shooting hard and often against Johan Hedberg and his suddenly-revived career, blasting the veteran netminder with 12 quality shots in the first period. The guy simply channeled The Force from start to finish. End of story.
The bad: whether legitimate or otherwise, the Cats found themselves on the hind end of far too many odd-man opportunities, including fighting off a five-minute major and game misconduct assessed to Michael Frolik for - presumably - boarding and "intent to injure" in the second frame. Yep, Frolik. He of 22 penalty minutes in 2008-09. Whatever...the Panthers stayed loose and confident throughout, and kept the net clean for another two minutes thanks to a Bryan McCabe "elbowing" call.
Penalties aside, the Panthers and Thrashers put on a production of "Playoff What-if", with each goaltender almost literally standing on his head, Tomas Vokoun stopping 36 shots and Hedberg laying a brick wall on 30. Both sides threw out their big guns; this was not a snoozefest. And Florida's Stephen Weiss was the go-to dood once more, banging home his 13th at 2:36 of the third period.
As has become customary news in recent days for Florida fans, the probable outcome - Atlanta scoring in the final minute of regulation to tie it - thankfully never materialized.
Instead, Ilya Kovalchuk scored four seconds prior to the final minute of regulation, thereby providing far less drama than games of late.
Overtime came and went as it has so many times this year. On to the shootout. Kovalchuk does the expected and places the Cats in an early hole. Weiss is stopped. Horton hit a post. Reinprecht scored. Then came everyone's favorite choice - opponents included - for shootout duty: Rusty Olesz. Does "backhand at the right-side of the net" sound familiar?
It did to Hedberg, who read it like a cheap novel. Up comes our new friend Rich Peverley, whose shot Vokoun had no chance on, put the game away. It's a point gained, and considering the past few weeks, a welcome point. But a point given to another Southeastern team.
Personal view: As stated, the Panthers showed up. Don't wish to drive up hopes of division championships with that statement, but they were there, and quite probably put a scare into the Thrashers, if only for 58+ minutes. Vokoun was rock-solid, the lines were well-managed, and there was no question a lot of work went into prepping for this one. A game-breaking forward - looking beyond David Booth here - would likely have made all the difference. Again. Whatever...they got to overtime, and with Tampa Bay, Carolina, and Washington all victorious this evening, Florida gained a point on, um, Toronto.