At some point during the season, most likely at the end of it, the Panthers as a group are going to look back and lament over the loss of points due to so many overtime losses. They gained another point on Wednesday night, losing in overtime to the Avalanche 4-3, but lost a point as well by simply not finishing the chances they worked to obtain in the extra frame. Florida goaltender Jose Theodore returned to action and was excellent for the Panthers, but it wouldn't be enough as Florida again struggled to score despite having some golden opportunities. It's starting to become a recurring theme as of late, and it's one that is clearly going to haunt Florida down the road, as they now have more overtime losses than any team in the NHL, and have left a total of ten points on the table as a result. Right now, that'd be the difference between first place and seventh place in the Eastern Conference. With the Washington Capitals topping Montreal in the same evening, Florida again lost their third place standing and will now have their work cut out for them to not only get it back, but build up enough of a lead to keep it long-term again.
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The game started pretty slow as the two teams gauged each other's play style. Colorado had most of the early chances as the Cats couldn't seem to get any type of solid breakout and therefore little pressure on Jean-Sebastian GIguere. The Panthers top line was able to keep the puck in the Colorado zone for a bit and get some decent shots off on Giguere but couldn't put one past. Colorado would respond with some pressure in the Florida zone but the Cats did a good job keeping the action to the perimeter and the shooting lanes stuffed up. The Panthers started to get some sustained offensive pressure thanks to the always-energetic fourth line, and the Cats would draw a penalty right after that line finished a shift, giving Florida their first chance on the man advantage for the evening. The Cats would make Cody McLeod pay for his roughing infraction as Marcel Goc would get credit for a powerplay goal, giving Florida a 1-0 lead. It looked like an Avalanche player actually put this puck into his own net accidentally, but Goc was the last to touch and would get credit. The Avs would respond with a great shift, keeping the puck in the Florida zone for nearly a minute, but couldn't get one past Theodore. Florida would end the period with a one goal lead but would take a late penalty as Shawn Matthias got caught high sticking, and that meant the Avalanche would start the second on a powerplay.
As previously mentioned, Colorado would start the period on the power play, but the Panthers would easily kill of the Matthias penalty. The teams would go back and forth for awhile but the Avs would eventually even it up. Florida would try to clear but instead turn it over and Peter Mueller would flick a wrister through Theodore from about 12 feet out in the slot, tying it up at one. The Panthers started looking fatigued and slow after the goal and Colorado seemed to begin to control the pace of play. Theodore had to be sharp for long stretches of the second as the Avalanche just kept on coming, pouring shots on and getting the majority of the puck possession time in the period. Florida would get some shots on Gigure but most would be from the perimeter as Colorado did a great job defending. The Panthers would eventually break through though as Stephen Weiss decided to take things into his own hands, beating three Colorado defenders and beating Giguere with the help of his own body, as he was tripped up before the shot was taken. The goal was reviewed for quite awhile, as Toronto seemingly loves to torture the Panthers, but it stood and Weiss scored his first in 16 games, giving the Cats a 2-1 lead with about a minute left. Colorado was not pleased and the next shift after the Weiss goal the Avs absolutely assaulted Theodore, but he held his ground and Florida went into the third with a tenuous one-goal lead.
The Panthers would strike barely thirty seconds into the third as Tomas Kopecky would score off a rebound, giving the Cats a two-goal lead, and they would need it as Kris Versteeg would go to the box for an interference penalty immediately after the goal. The Panthers would kill it off but would get right back on the PK as the Cats were caught for too many men on the ice. The Avs would ice a powerplay unit with five fowards and would convert as Mueller scored his second of the night off a nice one-timer with traffic in front. The lead would be cut back to one and Colorado gained momentum from the goal, pushing Florida back into their own zone and pressuring Theodore again. The Panthers had an absolutely golden opportunity as Tomas Fleischmann caused a turnover at the Colorado blueline and was in alone on Giguere, but couldn't beat him on the backhand nor during a scramble in front and Colorado would get away with one. Colorado would come back with some pressure of their own, but would take a double minor penalty as Matt Bradley would get high sticked, drawing blood and sending Bradley to the dressing room. The Panthers were atrocious on the resulting powerplay, barely generating any shots and giving Colorado a shot or two of their own. The Panthers would fall back into defensive mode a bit to try and hold their lead, but the Avalanche would make them pay as Paul Statsny would tie it up at three.
- Theodore's back, and boy did the Panthers need him. Scott Clemmensen wasn't exactly bad in his time as the starter, posting some good numbers but not a whole lot of wins. Theodore was very solid in this one despite having some rust after being out since New Year's Eve, but he was huge for the Panthers when they needed it, as he's been all year.
- Garrison looked fantastic and was on or around the puck almost all game. He was blocking chances, clearing on the PK, ripping it on the powerplay and just was an all-around stud. He continues to grow as a player and keeps making his case for a nice new contract.
- Matt Bradley may not be putting up points, but man is he hitting people on the forecheck. He absolutely crushed Stefan Elliot in the offensive zone and sent Elliot right to the bench for repairs.
- This was Weiss' 600th NHL game. That's no small task. Here's to hoping Weiss stays healthy for the rest of his career and puts in another 600 in a Panthers sweater. Congrats to him and also for his big goal in the second period.
- There was some scuttlebutt about Kris Versteeg possibly being scratched for the game tonight, either due to injury or for some good old fashioned motivation. After watching him play, I'd lean towards injury. He doesn't seem to have the jump and speed he had no more than a month ago, and his shot looks a bit labored at times. Hopefully I'm wrong and he's alright, because the Panthers can't really afford to lose their top scorer to injury just as they're getting their depth players back.
- With Ed Jovanovski out for awhile, we're going to be seeing a lot of Keaton Ellerby. He's not getting a ton of time but he's playing responsibly for the most part and will only improve as his ice time increases. There were calls from many fans to deal some of the organization's defensive assets like Ellerby earlier in the year because they were stuck in the press box, but at this point the restraint by GM Dale Tallon is being rewarded.
- The Panthers as a whole looked pretty slow and tentative more than they looked quick and energetic. Some great individual efforts were the difference in this one, and that's a good sign for a team that hasn't had a lot of that lately.
- I'm not a fan of the new powerplay configuration. The four forwards isn't working well, and the top line has been cold. Get the top line on the ice as they're the best puck movers, and reunite Garrison and Brian Campbell. Don't try to fix what isn't really broken.
- Tonight's libation: The Bennett Cocktail, featuring 2 oz. of Bluecoat gin, 1 oz. fresh lime juice, 1/4 oz. simple syrup, 3-5 dashes of Angostura bitters, shaken and strained into a chilled glass. Bluecoat, if you haven't had it, is a sublime gin with a unique flavor; definitely worth a taste for those able to obtain.