In what was considered by many, including head coach Joel Quenneville, to be the most important game of the season so far for the Florida Panthers, the Cats had a chance to step up against a red-hot Toronto Maple Leafs team and deliver a huge divisional win.
The Cats surely did that and then some, although maybe Quenneville should’ve told them to save a few goals for the next game.
Chris Dreidger, getting an unexpected start in place of the injured Sergei Bobrovsky, had plenty of goal support as the high-powered Panthers put up eight goals en route to a huge 8-4 win over the Leafs. Dreidger allowed four against an offensively dangerous Maple Leafs squad, but his 43 saves on 47 shots was enough to give the Cats a regulation win and two points.
The Panthers came out flying, scoring twice in the first five minutes, with Mike Hoffman adding a third later in the period to ensure the Cats would head into the second period with a big 3-0 lead. Dreidger had some huge first period stops to keep things close and the Panthers played a solid defensive game overall, ensuring the Leafs didn’t get their own high-powered offense going at all.
In the second, the Panthers didn’t slow down much, scoring four more times in the first 12:37 of the period. The Leafs would score three of their own, however, keeping the game within reach. Zach Hyman, Mitchell Marner and John Tavares would all pot a goal and make you wonder if the Buds dangerous offense could score itself back into the game.
That feeling came back at the start of the third when Marner would score his second of the night, pulling the Leafs within three. However, after scoring number seven in the second, Panthers all-star forward Jonathan Huberdeau set up the eighth goal of the game for the Cats, and that would be all she wrote as Dreidger locked it down the rest of the way.
What a huge win for the Panthers. These are the games that, as a collective fan base, we’re used to seeing the team come out flat and unprepared for, and this one was anything but that as the Cats played a pretty complete game from start to finish. The Maple Leafs did have some atrocious goaltending but the Panthers also took away the eyes from the Toronto goalies on several of the goals, making their own luck with some good positioning.
The Cats will be riding high after this one, and let’s hope the effort continues on Thursday against the Los Angeles Kings at the BB&T Center. The Kings are one of the worst teams in the NHL at this point in the season, but as everyone knows there are no easy games in this league, so Florida will once again need to be ready.
If you like attendance jokes at our expense, make your way over to Pension Plan Puppets and add a few grains salt to the wounds. Eight of them to be exact.
- Congratulations to Huberdeau for taking over the top spot in franchise scoring history with 420 points. We’ve watched Huberdeau grow from a skinny Calder-winning teenage to the offensive wizard he is today, one disgusting pass at a time. That being said, I’m sure he’d trade that accolade for a playoff spot every single time. Let’s hope the Panthers are able to get him to the postseason so we can see his talents when it matters most.
- Colton Sceviour had another one of those games where you see his inherent value to the team. He had some heroic PK efforts throughout, but also was just nonstop all game on the forecheck and never quit on any plays. Those are the kinds of players that define how far a team goes in a season, whether its regular or post.
- It took a little while, but I think we’re seeing the resurgence of Vincent Trocheck. He’s doing all the things that make him an effective, dangerous player: forechecking and throwing the body, hanging on to the puck, and generating chances with his speed. Quenneville has to be thrilled to get a confident, healthy Trocheck driving play on that second line.
- Aleksander Barkov gets knocked sometimes for not always rising to the occasion in the big games, but boy did he have himself a night against the Leafs. His feet never stopped moving the entire evening and he generated several scoring chances (and a goal) on his own. Florida needs their captain to be this dominant to make the playoffs, let alone to make a run in said playoffs.
- Brett Connolly had a fantastic 200-foot game and was involved defensively as much as offensively. He’s been quiet lately but he’s playing the right way without the puck which should lead to some goals for him soon. He’s still one of the best 5 on 5 players on the Cats and will continue to be with that kind of play.
- Hoffman may never want to leave Florida as long as Huberdeau is feeding him on the power play. He scored two more goals tonight, giving him five in the last four games, and the second goal was off a ridiculous no-look feed from Huberdeau.