If the Florida Panthers are going to make the playoffs, Friday night’s game against the Montreal Canadiens was a game that they had to win. Despite the fact that the Habs are 7 points ahead of the Panthers prior to the start of the game, Florida was facing a team that didn’t have it’s number one goalie (Carey Price), and was in the middle of a long road trip. Yet the initial 3-4 minutes of the game had disaster written all over it as Montreal scored 35 seconds in on a terrible giveaway by Mike Matheson. The young defenceman was behind the Panthers net, and in an attempt to clear the puck made a ill advised backhand pass up the slot area. Tomas Tatar caught the pass (re: gift) and put it right past Roberto Luongo. What Matheson should have done is put the puck “hard” along the boards to either clear it out, or have a Panther forward pick it up to continue it out of harms way. Youthful and mental mistake. There were more to come.
Two minutes later Nicolas DesLauriers made it 2-0 and you could feel the air deflate from the BB&T Center filled with a sell out crowd. Fortunately the Panthers recovered their composure and tied the score with goals by Henrik Borgstrom and Denis Malgin. The Borgstrom goal was a beautiful snipe past former Panther Antti Niemi, and the Malgin goal came to the forwards’ stick off an odd bounce and he shot it past an unsuspecting Niemi. After that, and for the remainder of the first period, the game settled down. Although if not for the goal post, Montreal forward Jesperi Kotkaniemi would have added 2 more goals, but luckily for the Panthers the period ended tied at 2. Things would need to improve, and the defence would need to tighten up for the next 40 minutes.
The middle period was fairly uneventful and ended up with neither team scoring. Both teams were a bit conservative in their offensive play, as neither goaltender was under fire, or tested severely. The Panthers had two power play chances early, but they didn’t get many shots against Niemi. Niemi by the way has some gaudy numbers this season. His record is 4-3-1, but his GAA is 4.14, and his save percentage is .876. Certainly not Vezina Trophy stats, but up to this point he was keeping his team in the game.
Two penalties in the third period however doomed the Panthers. The first was a tripping penalty to Frank Vatrano, and the second about a minute later was a delay of game penalty to MacKenzie Weegar. Montreal had a five on three for 41 seconds, and just as the first penalty ended, Tomas Tatar scored his second on a one timer past Luongo. Now there are some who will blame these two infractions as questionable as well as costly to the outcome. However, these two penalties were not why the Panthers lost this game.
The Panthers just weren’t ready from the drop of the puck.
“Some guys weren’t ready to play when the puck dropped. We were down 2-0 before the puck dropped,” coach Bob Boughner said.
The Barkov line had zero shots combined through approximately 57 minutes of the game. The defence, which at times continues to show it’s youthful inexperience, made several mistakes that lead to scoring chances. A few of those mistakes were costly, and had Montreal not hit the goal post 4 times, they could have scored 9 goals.
Except for a brief flurry, the Panthers for most of the game looked very pedestrian. There was no jump early, and it continued throughout as Montreal clearly came ready to play, and determined to pad their lead over Florida, which is now 9 points over the Panthers for a Wild Card spot. The Panthers are 8 points behind Boston for the final Wild Card, and a loss tonight combined with a Bruins win would make it an even 10. Yes the Panthers have 2 games at hand and 3 more to play against the Bruins, but they have to win all of those, and the three against Boston would have to be in regulation.
There’s no excuse for how Florida played last night. The team wasn’t ready to play and while many are quick to place blame on the coaching staff, at some point the players need to be held accountable. This was a game with “playoff” atmosphere leading up to it, and the Panthers mentally didn’t have the capacity to play that style of hockey.
There’s no urgency, no desperation, no physicality, and too much cuteness.
Coach Bob Boughner with one of his many “tempered” comments:
“We were tied with half a period to go, take a selfish penalty and it just explodes,”. “We were still in the game at that point. … That fourth goal was a backbreaker. We had two defensemen caught behind the net. Unaware, dumb hockey.”
The post game player comments are becoming all very common with the same theme being said. No need to replay them, as you know what they are, yet a rested Philadelphia Flyers team, that was already in town on Friday waits for the Panthers tonight. The Panthers appear to be a fragile team that’s not able to get out of their own way at times. The inconsistent play for a team this talented can’t be explained. They are too good to be this mediocre.
Or are they?
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