Call it Scott Clemmensen's redemption.
On a night where even the most jaded Florida fan would have predicted doom against a club hanging by their final playoff sinew, the visiting Cats displayed the never-say-die stuff one only reads about in Detroit Red Wings primers and better Stallone films.
Of course, "Rambo" was the best Stallone film, crammed full of (badly rendered and non-ILM) computer-generated blood, brain matter, and ridiculously wild M60 assassinations, but that's a story for another day. An aside: Rocky III is one of my favorite don't-lift-a-finger-it's-Sunday flicks. So is Road House. No arguments, Mr. Wesley.
First impression? The Leafs were a confused bunch out of the gate; no flow, rhythm, or strategy to their attacks. Won't go so far as to claim the Cats read it all like such a bad book, but other than Phil Kessel (6 shots), there was very little to admire. The Panthers kept it simple by constantly attacking and concentrating on puck possession. Though the final shot count doesn't reflect the reality, it worked.
As a Panthers fan, I had already made the assumption that I'd be placing my head upon pillow following a scathing Leafs' victory. No way in my mind Ron Wilson's cadre was going to roll over on an evening when so much was at stake.
No matter. David Booth's two goals (one of which was pretty freaking kewl) stood tall, helped along by Michael Frolik and a Jason Garrison empty-netter to seal the evening. Radek Dvorak, Bryan McCabe, Rostislav Olesz(!), and Shawn Matthias picked up assists on the night.
The game belonged, however, to Panthers goaltender Clemmensen, who stopped 42 of 43 shots in his most commanding appearance of the 2009-10 season. For a guy who's ridden shotgun in the front seat of an emotional roller coaster all year, "Clemmer" was a sight to behold. He needed this game.
Toronto's Jean-Sebastien Giguere surrendered three goals on 28 shots, while Fredrik Sjostrom scored the lone goal, assisted by, well, no one.
Anyway, the Panthers reached 71 points. Woot.
Next up: Jacques Martin on Thursday...