In the end the Panthers indeed gained a point in the standings. And for that we are happy.
There really wasn’t much to complain about with the Cats’ effort against a team many figured would roll over them, but Florida-Pittsburgh games are always grudgematches, and tonight was no different. Peter DeBoer – heavily criticized recently for his club’s perceived lack of preparation – had his boys ready for just about anything. Except overtime penalty kills…
Shawn Matthias appeared to have lost a couple of teeth after a brutal cross check to the face by Evgeny Malkin (who received a double minor on the play), but came back for more, only to wind up taking the butt-end of yet another stick to the face late in the third (no call on that one).
But that was the extent of tonight’s “controversies”, which really amounted to nothing. The Penguins, not playing to their traditional strengths, were a bit outside of their comfort zone, allowing numerous odd-man chances to break through the defensive zone. Backup goaltender Brent Johnson – in his first start since November 27th – looked to be channeling Lyndon Johnson at times, displaying the rust inherent from a long layoff, but coming up large when it mattered. He stopped 29 shots in what could have been a bloodbath for a lesser Number Two. That’s what good clubs do. Malkin was the hero this time around, burying a Sergei Gonchar pass to end it – quickly – in the overtime period.
Steve Reinprecht and Stephen Weiss (grabbing his 14th of the year) scored for the Panthers, keeping it more than mildly interesting for fans in South Florida.
Tomas Vokoun was phenomenally outstanding at times, especially in the first frame, when he may have represented the entire Cats’ defense. Embarrassing though it may be, we’re used to it, and presumably so is “T-Vo”.
Bottom line: the Pens caught up with themselves and did what they do: win. They are truly a fabulous club which can dig deep to close the deal, late power plays notwithstanding. The Panthers were not humiliated in any sense, and leaving The Igloo with a point is a major positive.
Off to Long Island…