It was apparent before the puck even dropped that the Florida Panthers couldn't lose the game in regulation. Just five minutes into the Rangers-Capitals game, Florida knew they wouldn't be gifted the division, they had to earn the division; even if it only meant for one game. The Panthers did exactly that, instead settling for a gut-wrenching overtime point they took it to the Carolina Hurricanes for a full 60 minutes and left the game with their first regulation victory in 10 tries. And with the "Southeast Division Champions" label in tow.
There will still be butterflies from now until Game 1 versus the New Jersey Devils, but know Florida ended the regular season with the highest of high notes around the league. This team had it's doubters from July 1st to the puck drop of game #82, but Florida finally found a way to get it done when it came down to the wire. Beating Carolina might mean nothing in a four game sweep, but know that whether the Cats are a one-and-done or go all the way, all signs point to this season as the beginning. Someone recently said that in five years, we'll look back on this team as "the bad team". From here on out the slate is cleaned, the faces will be shaved and everyone will start with zero wins. Welcome to the postseason.
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-04:02 Marcel Goc(11) assist to Dmitry Kulikov and Mikael Samuelsson
-06:43 John Madden(3) assists to Tomas Kopecky and Ed Jovanovski
-10:06 Stephen Weiss(20) PPG assists to Samuelsson and Kris Versteeg
-08:26 Joni Pitkanen(5)PPG assist to Eric Staal
-18:36 Mikael Samuelsson(14) ENG assists to Jason Garrison and Goc
- Scott Clemmensen and Brian Boucher would be in net, Clemmer in for a resting Jose Theodore and Boucher in for Cam Ward. Boucher had played just 9 games all season prior to his action in the final game of the season.
- Jamie McBain(MCBAIN!) would have two of the better chances for the Hurricanes while Kris Versteeg would have his shot blocked as a cross-ice pass left him with a yawning cage.
- Marcel Goc would score perhaps his prettiest goal of the season as he picked up Kulikov's point shot out front, dropped Boucher and swept it into an open net. The play all started from a clean faceoff win.
- Hey, what's the fun keeping it at one? Florida looked absolutely pumped after Goc's goal and responded with another quickly after. After McBain lost an edge behind the net, Marco Sturm picked off an outlet pass, sent it back to the point for Jovanovski who'd send a pass to Kopecky who'd play a little give and go with Madden to throw off Boucher and score. An absolutely perfect play all around, and it all started from perfect stick placement from Sturm who started it all off.
- Jeremy Welsh would be making his NHL debut straight outta' college for the Hurricanes, starting out his career with a tripping penalty 78 seconds into the game. For a young kid in his first period of play, there weren't any fireworks but besides the penalty he looked solid for the most part. Speed seems to be the name of his game.
- The Hurricanes TV announcers had tons of compliments for Tallon and company tonight as they marveled at the job he and Dineen had done for the Panthers. If you've been keeping track this season, you'll see that the critics are slowly disappearing across the hockey world. We'll know the day has come when Tallon wins the GM of the year award.
- You know what we haven't seen this season? A Sean Bergenheim wraparound goal. Bergy hasn't even tried one lately. Maybe in the playoffs when he'll be scoring two a night.
- Marco Sturm has been excellent since having his ice-time restored by Dineen, the stability of not switching up the line every night is even better when the guy you stick with is making himself known every night and forcing plays.
- Samuelsson has 10 points in 13 games. Is there any reason NOT to re-sign this guy? If he wants to stick around, I'd gladly welcome him back.
- With Welsh taking his second penalty, Florida would put home their first powerplay goal of the night as Samuelsson's point shot rebounded to Weiss who had a tap in. Boy you know he needed that goal. The TV zoomed in to Welsh's parents...ease up guys, it was a kinda weak call to begin with.
- With his powerplay assist, Kris Versteeg set a career high in points with 54, even though he was a non-factor for a solid month. Congrats to Kris.
- Elsewhere in the League, Washington won their game 4-1, and Steven Stamkos scored his 60th goal. Color me shocked on both of those.
- Would anyone like to argue that Miami-Ft. Lauderdale can't support a hockey team? Tonight 19,087 seats were sold for a game against the Hurricanes. The truth is, Florida will support a winner, and with a bright future and playoffs ahead, big draws will soon become a fixture of the club.
- I don't know if Boucher is small or if the net is large, but all of Florida's goals were into a mostly empty net and the Panthers had numerous chances with a yawning cage that just went wide.
- The Clemmensen shutout would be broken with 11 minutes left in the period, as Versteeg sat in the box the faceoff win would come right to Joni Pitkanen who'd wire one over Clemmer's shoulder. Oh well.
- For the first time in a what feels like an eternity, it felt as if the Panthers were really playing well, from the usually slow forwards, inconsistant defense and shaky goaltending. It seemed like everyone brought their hardhats and lunchpails for the final game of the season and division title. If this is the preview for the playoffs, I for one am excited.
- Thank Dale Tallon for your 2012 Southeast Division Champion Florida Panthers
Chris' First Star: I think we can all agree Scott Clemmensen stole the show for the Panthers in game #82. this sets up a quandary for Kevin Dineen, does he ride the scortching hot hand of Clemmensen as he faces off with his former club, or go with the battle-tested veteran in Jose Theodore. Right now I say play Clemmensen, even though I wouldn't be totally opposed to seeing Theodore start it off.
Chris' Worst Star: No bad performances to be found.
Up Next: Florida will face the New Jersey Devils in the first round of the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs, against their former coach, with home ice advantage. Dates and times to be announced.