After such a terrible loss in Boston, there really was only one option for Kevin Dineen's club resuming play after the break; accept nothing but a win. Returning home for the holidays and hitting the ice tonight against the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Florida Panthers certainly didn't play as if they were feeling sorry for themselves but rather grabbed an early lead and added to it often. The Panthers had the talent and speed to win, all they lacked was the confidence to do so. The inconsistent of late Tomas Fleischmann scored, the San Antonio call-ups combined for 5 points and the defense continued to chip in with 5 points. If there was any game that could serve as the jumping-off point for something bigger, tonight's had all the makings of such a game.
1st: Jose Theodore and James Reimer would get the nod in net for their respective teams at the BankAtlantic Center. Two minutes into the first period and the Panthers would get off to the right start for once, the big kid Erik "I don't need no stinking WJC" Gudbranson would send a shot through a screen and past Reimer, the only assist going to Tim Kennedy. Toronto would enjoy a few good shifts themselves, but it seemed the Panthers were really putting in the effort to make up for the terrible loss last game. Jason Garrison would earn the first penalty of the night with a hook on Matt Frattin. Toronto had a good powerplay but the defenders would send the puck down the ice early and often, keeping Toronto from setting up for too long. The period would end at that, with the Panthers hanging on with the one goal lead.
2nd: After picking off a breakout pass, Toronto's Mikhail Grabovski would sink a snap shot from the bottom of the circles to even the score at one, assists going to Nikolai Kulemin and Cody Franson. Not to be out down, Evgenii Dadonov and Mark Cullen would connect a pretty passing sequence to send Bill Thomas in all alone with a breakaway. Not known for his super-slick journeyman dekes, Thomas would kinda push the puck towards the far post catching Reimer off gaurd to regain the lead. Tim "Timmah" Kennedy would be cross checked by Keith Aulie for the Panthers first powerplay of the night. It wouldn't take long to make the Leafs pay, Jason Garrison would send his bomb towards the net and Michal Repik would tip in his second (possibly third) goal of the season*. Toronto would pull Reimer in favor of Jonas Gustavsson. Florida wouldn't be done on the powerplay, Timmuh Kennedy would again be the victim, Grabovski in the box for slashing. Toronto would then take a dumb too-many-men penalty giving Florida a long 5-on-3. This time Kris Versteeg would deflect the puck past Gustavsson. Not done yet, Dion Phaneuf would make his best Garrison impression with a slapshot from the point past Theodore, assist to Phil Kessel. The Leafs would try to
claw rake (?) themselves back into the game, but Theodore would keep them out of the back of the net for the remainder of the period. 4-2 Florida.
3rd: Brian Campbell would take a holding penalty early into the period, and on the ensuing Toronto powerplay they'd hit the post twice between Florida's shorthanded rushes. Five minutes later Tomas Fleischmann would be called for hooking, and Clarke MacArthur would deflect the puck into the net with his skate. They play would be reviewed, but since MacArthur was falling as the puck hit his skate the call on the ice stood as a good goal. Well you know what? Flash
don't like you making fun of his mule wasn't so happy about that call. Yeah Flash was angry. Matt Bradley banked a pass off the boards sending Fleischmann in one-on-one, he'd fake a slap shot and wire the puck stick side on Gustavsson to regain the two goal lead. Cullen would be caught with a delay of game penalty giving Toronto their third powerplay of the period, which would be killed. Ron Wilson would pull his goaltender with 2 minutes remaining, but the Leafs would never recover. Panthers win 5-3, rats rain down in Sunrise.
- That turning point Alex alluded to for Erik Gudbranson certainly seems evident with his goal tonight. We're slowly but surely beginning to see the dominant defenseman Gudbranson was in juniors.
- I have to wonder if Bill Thomas has more fans in Florida than in the AHL combined. He really elevates his game with the Cats and earns every minute of his TOI.
- *Well, Repik would have his goal taken away and given to Garrison. Either way, he was a huge part of both Garrison's and Gudbranson's goals and had a great game with 6 shots on net.
- Matt Bradley has certainly earned his promotion to the upper lines. Brads has filled in for injured Sean Bergenheim on the penalty killing unit and even had a few seconds on the powerplay to cap off his 18:33 of ice time
- And so so the Panthers' streak of a million home games decided by one goal comes to an end. Good riddance.
- Granted, Toronto has one of the top PP units in the league, but the Panthers really need to clamp down on the penalty killing, which has been a problem since Bergenheim was injured again.
- Since the terrible early season homestand, the Panthers have really made the BAC a tough place to play. Florida is now 9-3-5 at home.
- Jose Theodore stopped 22 shots through the second period alone. He finished with 29 saves on the night.
Up Next: Embarrassment-free win with the HBO cameras watching. New York Rangers at Florida, Friday 7:30pm