After one of the toughest losses in recent memory against Ottawa, the Florida Panthers really needed a spectacular showing to beat Buffalo at home. They did just that, minus the spectacular part. Florida won tonights game defensively, not offensively, after poor defensive play cost them at least one point two nights before. Yes, the Cats were graced with lots of luck in this victory, but sometimes that's all that it takes to walk into the locker room up by a goal, and win a game you should have lost, to make it to the playoffs.
Given that Buffalo is by all means a playoff team, this win was probably the best of the season for Florida, not because they won 7-4 or rode the hot goaltender, but because they shut down the opponent in the third period and came back from behind. Luck is one thing, but a team that puts them self in position to capitalize on that luck is another. The Panthers teams of past years were by no means lucky, but maybe this team is. It took a full team effort to win this game, and with so few returning Panthers you can't help but point to this game and think 'chemistry'. This team learned from the mistakes that cost them in Ottawa and fixed them in time for the next game. Not only did learning this lesson allow them to steal two points in Buffalo, but it will help steal many more in the next 72 games.
1st: The Panthers got off to a terrible start when Mike Weaver coughed it up in front of the net setting up Buffalo with plenty of scoring chances. After a whistle the Panthers were able to settle things down momentarily, but the Sabres were certainly keeping the Panthers trapped in their own zone. The Kopecky-Goc-Upshall line had a good few minutes in the offensive zone but Ryan Miller turned away everything sent towards the net. Though Buffalo is a much better team than the Senators, Florida seemed to have a much better offensive showing than in the game before. On a centering pass from behind the net, Matt Ellis would redirect the puck through the pads of Jose Theodore, but upon review the call on the ice would be overturned and the score would remain 0-0. Though it was a tough call for the Sabres, perhaps the NHL war-room decided to spite the Panthers after so many 'unfortunate' decisions in the past. Anyhow, the Cats would gladly take it. Tyler Myers would take a holding call midway through the period giving Craig Ramsay's crew a chance to redeem themselves after a terrible powerplay showing in Ottawa two nights before. Of course there would be no redemption as Florida could barely even get it in the Sabres' zone. Immediately after the Myers penalty expired Florida would be called for too-many-men, giving Buffalo their first man advantage of the night. Fortunately the teams would reverse roles, this time the aggressive Panthers penalty killing would sabotage Buffalo's chances. Marco Sturm would trip up a Buffalo player giving Buffalo their second consecutive powerplay, but again the agressive penalty kill would shut down any Buffalo chances. As the penalty expired, Marco Sturm would be fed with a beautiful pass giving him a breakaway chance that Miller would turn away. Jordan Leopold would take a holding penalty in the corner in the dying seconds of the period, so the Cats would start the second on the PP.
2nd: After the remaining powerplay time killed off, the beginning of the period would be uneventful. In fact, it would take 6 minutes for anything notable to happen. Scottie Upshall would start a rush with Tomas Kopecky, the Buffalo defender would drive Kopecky into the corner where Upshall would chip the puck to Marcel Goc who would boomerang the puck from the goal line and through a gap between the post and Miller's pads for a goal (assists to Upshall and Kopecky). Srew Stafford would receive a high-sticking minor, but the Panthers again could never set much up on the man advantage. With about 5 minutes left in the period, the Cats would take their second bench minor of the night with another too-many-men call. That penalty would be killed, but Thomas Vanek would burn Theodore on a wrap-around to tie the game(from Myers and Adam). And the period would end that way, 1-1.
3rd: The Panthers would start the period with a great chance when Kris Versteeg and Stephen Weiss completed a pretty passing sequence, but again Miller would make the save. Jack Skille would create a rush and Mike Santorelli would intercept a fanned pass and find himself all alone with Miller who would cut down the shooting angle and turn the shot aside. For the first time on the roadtrip, it seemed like Florida was skating with speed and catching the opponent on line changes instead of the other way around. The first half of the third was essentially all Panthers, the visitors had multiple odd man rushes, shots and chance stemming entirely from their speed. Around the nine minute mark Thomas Vanek would slip the defenders and draw a hooking penalty as he sped towards Theodore. With Shawn Matthias in the box, Jason Pominville would be fed a pass and send a onetimer into a wide open net to take the lead for Buffalo(from Brad Boyes and Christian Ehrhoff). After a huge hit (from behind) on Jordan Leopold dished out from Marco Sturm, Drew Stafford would take a retaliation penalty, so the teams would play 4-on-4. Nathan Gerbe would trip Dmitry Kulikov behind the goal line and take an unsportsmanlike conduct penalt giving the Panthers a 4-on-3 powerplay opportunity, a 3 minute powerplay when Stafford exited the penalty box. With Ryan Miller out of position, Tomas Fleischmann would tap in a loose puck into the open net for his 3rd goal of the season (from Kopecky). With Gerbe still in the box and the Panthers on the powerplay, Jason Garrison would smash a shot over the shoulder of Miller to give the Panthers the lead 3-2 (from Brian Campbell and Kopecky). With only a few minutes left in the game, Miller would be pulled but the Sabres couldn't capitalize, Panthers win the game 3-2.
- That Brian Campbell trade is already paying dividends. Campbell himself already has 9 points in 10 games, but his defensive partner Garrison has 4 goals in the same span. It took Garry 73 games to score 5 last season.
- How good is the top line? Together, Weiss Versteeg and Fleishmann have 12 goals and a boatload of assists. Though his last goal was credited to Weiss (still wondering why) Flash is really turning up the heat.
- Mike Weaver had plenty of turnovers tonight but still managed to finish +1. His +6 rating on the season has him sitting pretty tied for 7th in the league in plus/minus.
- 2 bench minor penalties must have Dineen furious with himself, but hey; live and learn. The ability to draw those penalties by shooting the puck into the middle of a linechange sure doesn't help either.
- Ryan Miller stood on his head all night for Buffalo, Theodore did on his end too. For two goalies playing so well, gotta wonder how the final score was 3-2.
- Marco Sturm laid a pretty dangerous hit on Leopold towards the end of the game. Don't be surprised if he gets some Shannaban time.
- With the win, the Cats find themselves with 6 on the season and 2nd in the Southeast, 6th in the conference.
- Another good game for Erik Gudbranson, the kid is growing in leaps and bounds each time the Panthers win.
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