Last night was my first time attending a game in the press area and the Florida Panthers made it quite a memorable evening. Las Panteras did some very important things in their 6-4 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs.
1. The team showed the ability to comeback against a team they are looking up at in the standings.
2. They won a game without resorting to a shootout.
3. The Cats put up another win in front of the home crowd, while perhaps forcing Leaf fans to start figuring out who is on the Raptors this season.
The Cats began the game thoroughly outshooting the Leafs. The few opportunities Toronto had though forced Roberto Luongo to do what he gets paid the big bucks to do. What more can be said about this guy? As I have harped on before, this man is probably the number one reason the Panthers are where they are. I do not think that Jose Theodore, Tim Thomas, Jacob Markstrom or Scott Clemmensen would have the Panthers at 40 points at this point in the season, in this division.
At the other end of the ice, James Reimer has to be given some kudos for his performance in the opening twenty. He kept the Cats off the scoreboard when they were buzzing in the first.
The Leafs got on the board after the Cats left Erik Gudbranson to deal with a 3-on-1 scenario that Luongo could not stop either. Richard Panik got the goal with helpers from Morgan Rielly and David Clarkson.
The boys from Sunrise tied it up as Jonathan Huberdeau tallied with assists going to Brian Campbell and Nick Bjugstad The Cats then followed up with yet another tally from Big Jimmy Hayes (Sean Bergenheim on the assist). Hayes has been on a bit of a roll lately after scoring two goals in the previous game against Pittsburgh.
Things seemed to be going swell at the midway point of the period but then suddenly the Florida's defense decided to take a break and Toronto tore through the Cats' zone like a hot knife through butter. Roman Polak scored at 14:16 and James van Riemsdyk then put the Leafs ahead at 17:30. Shortly thereafter, Nazem Kadri would add salt to the wound for the Leafs' fourth goal. It was not good. My distaste was apparent.
I was curious as to how Florida would respond. The finish to the second period was awful. To the relief of those in Pantherland, the boys came out and redeemed themselves.
At 2:45, Dmitry Kulikov shot from way out and the puck found the back of the net. And boy was Kuli ever pumped. The energy was there and the Cats were hungry for some waffles. The Maple Leafs were ripe for the taking.
Midway through the final period, the captain, Willie Mitchell, tied it up. Yes, it was time to get the butter ready.
And then the Cats decided to take with a power-play, yes, that's right, a power-play goal on a Kulikov shot that was tipped in off the stick of Brad Boyes. There were still a couple of minutes left in the game for the Leafs to come back, but then the Panthers washed down those waffles with some good old, Florida orange juice in the form of a Scottie Upshall empty-net goal. And everyone was jolly as a Mario.
It was fun seeing the usual international rivalry between the American spectators and the Canadian visitors. Thanks for the boost to our economy.
The Panthers win comes off the heels of a final loss to cap another mediocre season from the Miami Dolphins, a Miami Hurricanes loss in a meaningless bowl game, and another loss the day before by the "meh" Miami Heat. If there is ever a better opportunity for the Cats to re-enter the consciousness of the South Florida tri-county area, it is now.
My player of the game honor goes to Captain Mitchell. You just know he had something to say to the guys in the dressing room following that horrendous second period. It is such a relief to have an actual captain who not only plays, but is expressive about his team's play when they need the criticism. The Cats responded tonight in a big way.