The youth movement continues onwards, this time to Tampa Bay, where the Panthers mounted a very, very late comeback but again fall short, losing to the Lightning 5-4. Florida blew two early leads in the first period and the Bolts put their collective feet on the gas after that, scoring four unanswered goals until Scottie Upshall netted the Panthers third goal late in the third on a two-on-one with Nick Bjugstad. The Cats were just outplayed for much of the game as Tampa kept the puck in the Panthers zone, testing newcomer Dan Ellis repeatedly.
The Panthers are going to continue with the youth movement as long as this season wears on, something that I personally think is a good thing for the organization. There will be a few of the call-ups on the team right now that likely make the squad out of training camp next season, but there will be even more demoted back to San Antonio, where they can continue to grow and develop and hopefully bring the Rampage a postseason berth. Meanwhile, the Panthers brass have to get aggressive in free agency, and possibly trades, to bring in some players who are going to help change the composition and culture of this team to be a tough bunch that can score goals. That's a tough task, but required to help guide this young team in the right direction and grow towards becoming a winner.
In the meantime, let's hope the Cats win that draft lottery.
- Florida not only looks somewhat disinterested, but completely outclassed talent wise. The Lightning just schooled them for most of the game. I'm not sure if it's because of the abundance of youth in the Cats lineup, the lack of effort throughout the entire lineup, or the coaching, but at this point I don't think it matters much. The Panthers definitely mounted a push at the very end, but at that point it was just too late for a viable comeback.
- Quinton Howden, in his first call-up this season, would score an opportunistic goal to put the Cats up 2-1 right after the Lightning tied it up. This was Howden's first NHL goal; congrats to the former first-rounder. His line of himself, Brandon Pirri and Jimmy Hayes was pretty effective most of the game, especially in the puck pursuit department.
- Man I would love to see someone just steamroll Radko Gudas into another timezone. Just once. Okay, several times.
- Joey Crabb is another Jesse Winchester-type player, someone who is seemingly fighting for a job with the big club. Unfortunately for Crabb, he's not as effective at the puck possession end of things as Winchester is. Still, he fights hard every shift and that's more than you can say for some of the other veteran players in the lineup.
- Dan Ellis got his first start as a Panther and made some tough saves, getting peppered at times as the Panthers struggled to deal with the speed and forecheck of the Lightning. I doubt Roberto Luongo would've fared much better as Tampa just controlled the offensive zone majority of the game, and had multiple power plays.
- Several Florida forwards need to be re-educated as to what a proper backcheck looks like. Several plays, including the Ryan Callahan goal, were perfect examples of a lazy, weak backcheck on opposing forwards crashing the net. Tying up the stick, getting inside placement between the skater and the net... all basics that tend not to happen because players are either out of position, not aware, or simply stop skating hard. Can't win games that way, boys and girls.
- Steven Stamkos would score his first goal since returning from a broken tibia, his first tally since November 9. How the Panthers left him as wide open as they did on the PK when he scored, I have no idea.
- This season has been yet another facepalm for Panther fans and members of the organization, but there have been some positives, and by far the biggest one of those is Nick Bjugstad. Florida seems to have finally found a player who has the potential to be an all star forward and a bonafide first line center for a long, long time. Bjugstad's effort is consistent, his talent is apparent, and he's been the only steady scorer the Cats have throughout the entire lineup. He potted two assists, putting him just one point behind Scottie Upshall for the team lead in scoring, and will likely lead the team by season's end. Hats off to Bjugstad for sticking through the difficult season and making the most of it.