Maybe the Florida Panthers knew something when they had their end of season festivities following Tuesday night’s win over the New York Rangers instead of Thursday’s home finale against the Toronto Maple Leafs. The playoff bound Leafs built a two-goal first period lead and never looked back en route to a 4-0 win over the Cats.
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After two games over the past weekend that saw the Florida Panthers produce few great scoring chances and only one goal, the Cats were due to a breakout offensive performance and maybe a couple of lucky bounces wouldn’t hurt them either. They received both as they threw 42 shots on the Toronto Maple Leafs and pocketed two goals from deflections but it wasn’t enough as the Leafs rode two Joffrey Lupul goals over the final 20 minutes to a 3-2 win.
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FLORIDA PANTHERS: 9-18-6 (24 PTS.) vs. TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS: 17-12-4 (38 PTS.)
Game Day Song: Missing
Tonight is the last game of a five game road trip for the Florida Panthers that started out promising, but has taken a turn for the worse. After playing two brilliant games in Carolina and New York, the Panthers ran into the New Jersey Devils trap, and the New York Islanders stranglehold, and need at least a point tonight for the trip to be positive. The last game of a long road trip always has the potential to be the worst game played since often times players want to get it over with and return home. Let’s hope that the Panthers don’t feel that way this evening as they face a Toronto Maple Leafs team that’s coming off a road game last night against the Boston Bruins. In that game the Leafs opened up a 2-0 lead against the Bruins only to see it disappear, leading to a shootout loss of 3-2.
As for the Panthers, it seems that all season long Florida has been searching for answers to the problems that have railroaded their season. The battered and beaten Panthers continue to limp their way along, and while they’ve shown flashes of quality play, they still are what they are. A consistently inconsistent group of players trying to make the best of what’s been dealt them, and on most nights, coming up short for a variety of reasons. The most common reason for the Panthers troubles has been lack of scoring, which is a direct result of the inability to finish. It doesn’t help to be one of the worst offensive teams in the league, but also to be the team that has given up the most goals in the entire NHL. In the New Jersey game the middle of the ice was so congested the Panthers appeared visibly frustrated in their inability to penetrate the offensive zone. When they tried, the Devils beat them to the puck, finished their checks which slowed Florida down even more, and gave up very few scoring chances. Sunday against the Islanders seemed to be more of the same, and while the fourth line of Jerrod Smithson, Greg Rallo and Quinton Howden provided much of the energy, and a few scoring opportunities, whatever chances the Panthers had, the Islanders stood strong. The shutout loss wasted a solid performance by Jacob Markstrom, and the Panthers somehow continue to ask the netminders to give up one goal or less with their anemic offensive support.
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Maybe the road will be kinder to the Florida Panthers than the confines of the BB&T Center have been. The Panthers were shutout for the third time in five games as they dropped a 3-0 decision to the Toronto Maples Leafs Monday night. The loss closes out a disappointing home stand that saw the Cats lose all four games, collecting three out of a possible eight points.
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TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS: 9-6-0 (18 PTS.) vs. FLORIDA PANTHERS: 4-6-4 (12 PTS)
GAME DAY SONG: Counting On A Miracle
The Florida Panthers host the Toronto Maple Leafs this evening for the fourth and final game of what has been a dismal homestand so far. Desperately needing a win, the Panthers will need to be firing on all cylinders tonight against a Leafs team that has won seven of their past 10 games, and is 6-2-0 on the road. A win tonight by Toronto ties them with their best road start since 1940-1941 when they went 7-2-0. Despite losing goaltender James Reimer to a lower body injury last week, backup Ben Scrivens is coming off a 34 save shutout performance against the Ottawa Senators on Saturday night. It was the first career shutout for Scrivens. The Leafs are hoping performances similar to that continue, as the win was their fifth in their past six games following a lackluster outing in Carolina on Thursday. Coach Randy Carlyle was displeased with the way his team played in that one:
Well, we got outworked in Raleigh,” Carlyle said. “We stated that and put that to our players that our commitment to the work ethic had to be to the higher level than it was in the last game.
One of the big stories for the Leafs this season has been the slow start of forward Phil Kessel who has only two goals after 15 games and didn’t get his first until game 11. Streaky as Kessel is, he wasn’t without chances, as he’s taken 60 shots on goal this year so far. Fortunately for Toronto they’ve been getting help from Tyler Bozak, James Van Riemsdyk and Nazem Kadri. Kadri who is finally getting regular ice time leads the team in scoring with four goals and eight assists for 12 points. JVR leads in goals with eight, indicating that the change of scenery from always sunny in Philadelphia to Toronto has helped. The Leafs as a team are among the league leaders in goals for, and won’t make this an easy game for the Panthers. Their defence is active with captain Dion Phaneuf and John-Michael Liles as the leaders of the blueline corps.
A career that began with tons of questions such as, is he too small, is he fast enough, or is he tough enough, have now been answered with nothing other than yes to all the above questions. Kris Versteeg had to earn his spot in this league. Being drafted 134th overall by the Boston Bruins, the pressure was on for Versteeg to play well enough to make a roster spot. After failing to play a single game in a Boston uniform, Versteeg was traded to the Chicago Blackhawks in exchange for a conditional draft pick and Brandon Bochenski. After the trade went down, Versteeg finished the season with Chicago after a brief stint in the AHL, scoring four points in a total of 13 games with the Blackhawks. The following season ended up being a breakout one for Versteeg as he went on to score 53 points in 78 games for the Blackhawks, and was one of the finalists for the Calder Trophy for rookie of the year. In 2009-2010 Versteeg was a key component in the Hawks run for the Stanley Cup, as they won their first championship since 1961. Following the season, Versteeg was forced out due to salary cap issues. The young and flashy forward was traded for Viktor Stalberg, Philippe Paradis, and Chris DiDomenico of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Versteeg’s stint with the Maple Leafs didn’t last long as he was traded to the Philadelphia Flyers just 53 games into the season. Read the rest of this entry
The NHL lockout is tough on everybody: the players, owners, and especially the employees and fans. The greed of some affects the lifestyle of many, and the sport of hockey suffers as a result. There’s no hiding the fact that this lockout is horrible.
But if you choose to demonize the owners and blame them for the entire situation, keep in mind that not all owners are created the same. Perhaps some of them are being victimized just the same as those being locked out of money. Most of these owners would actually rather accept the NHLPA offers than lose an entire season to a lockout.
Consider the Panthers’ majority owner, Cliff Viner. Look at all the momentum the Panthers have developed over last year. The team had one of its most successful seasons in its young history, and captured South Florida’s attention ad they made their way to a Southeast Division title. Sportswriters were talking about them, games were being sold out, the tiredness that usually accompanied conversations about the Panthers replaced with excitement. Why would it make any sense for Viner to surrender an entire year and ruin all the positive vibes? It doesn’t.
Also look at the San Jose Sharks’ ownership group, Stratton Sclavos and Kevin Compton. They get sellouts every night at HP Arena and their team is a perennial Stanley Cup contender. But their nucleus is aging: Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau would both lose a year from their careers, and the chase for the Cup would get that much more difficult for San Jose.
Most teams find themselves in a similar boat as these two teams: the possibility of profit and attention is too high to pass up.
So if there are owners who would want hockey to be played, it begs the question of which owners are not as eager. Since only Bill Daly and Gary Bettman are allowed to speak for the NHL and the owners, nobody can be totally sure. Good guesses can be hazarded that the big-market teams are participating in driving down negotiations. Maybe a team like the Rangers or Canadiens would seriously demand a buy-out clause for players, and a team like the Maple Leafs or Bruins would balk at higher revenue-sharing. These teams, since they are a few of the real power players within the NHL, probably have more say in negotiations than the Panthers and Sharks of the league. At least we assume this, since the positions taken by the NHL in meetings seems slanted more for the richest teams in the league to benefit than the ones with lower budgets.
Whatever the case, there needs to be a realization among the owners in general that there needs to be sacrifice on their part in order to make a deal work and end the lockout. Some owners already recognize this, but a few are still in denial.
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