The Florida Panthers will host the Boston Bruins in a 5:00 P.M. matchup tonight that will have a setting which is significantly different than it was a few days ago. The Panthers who made trade deadline news by trading for Roberto Luongo, and trading away Tim Thomas, have a new look and feel. Ironically with this matchup planned before the deadline, the Panthers planned to make this Tim Thomas bobblehead night as he likely would have faced his former team. With Luongo in net, and Thomas now in Dallas, the Panthers will still hand out the bobblehads to the first 7500 fans coming to the game.
The Panthers will be looking to prevent a season sweep to the Bruins who last beat the Panthers 4-1 on March 4th in a game that included a hat trick from Boston’s David Kreci. With the punishing and physical way the Bruins play, this will be another test for the Panthers who have a new look since the last time these two met.
The big story of course is Roberto Luongo coming back to South Florida to solidify the goaltending. Other additions include Brandon Pirri who came over from the Chicago Blackhawks, and the calling up from San Antonio of promising forward Vincent Trocheck. All three players had solid home debuts in Friday’s victory over the Buffalo Sabres, and appeared to inject some enthusiasm and confidence into a team that sorely needed it.
Granted, this is the Boston Bruins, so your expectations should be slightly adjusted, but having Luongo in goal by itself ought to instill some confidence in a roster that has spent the entire season trying to figure out who they really are. Playing a solid 60 minutes was the first improvement on Friday as was scoring two power play goals. The Panthers as we know have the league’s worst special teams as they are last in both penalty killing and power play efficiency.
Another positive on Friday was the play of defenceman Dmitry Kulikov who scored one of the power play goals. Kulikov who has been much maligned for his defensive mistakes is still a very young and talented defenceman who has yet to reach his full potential. If he can settle down, and work with a consistent partner, we may see his maturation.
The Panthers will have to be careful not to get carried away with careless penalties, and they’ll also have to maintain their composure. Boston players such as Brad Marchand and Shawn Thornton will try to get under the skin of the Panthers goading them into a penalty, and then pounce on that opportunity.
Play smart, play the full 60 minutes, and maintain control. This could be a fun game if things go right.
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