At the 1:31 mark of overtime, Mike Hoffman was waiting patiently on the far circle as defenceman Keith Yandle fed the Panthersâ€™ resident sniper a perfect feed. In typical Hoffman fashion, the puck was drilled into the net. Game. Over. It was a power play goal, as the the Panthers had a 4 on 3 man advantage in the extra frame with Brett Connoly serving a 2 minute minor for slashing that was called with 4 seconds remaining in regulation.
This was the Panthers second consecutive win, and their 6th in their past 8 games. Why not? Itâ€™s February and this is when the Panthers typically turn on the jets and win games in this fashion in an attempt for a mad dash to the playoffs. With last nightâ€™s victory the Panthers are 9 points out of the final wild card position behind Pittsburgh, and with a win tonight, can close the gap to 7.
Why is it that the Florida Panthers play so much better after the holidays then they do at the beginning of the season? (At least for the past two seasons). This is the $6 million dollar question that no analytics or keen eye can answer with validation. It just happens.
This game wasnâ€™t without theatrics of course, as the Panthers opened the game early with some defensive blunders (as usual), and then Roberto Luongo took a high hard one around the rib area, which is likely not well protected. He seemed a bit stunned, but the veteran netminder who was making his 1,000th start, shook it off, and continued to play. Luongo would make 26 saves overall, while Washington did score 4 times, although they could have had at least 2 more. Luongo is now the third goaltender in NHL history to start 1,000 games (behind Martin Brodeur and Patrick Roy), and is also tied for third in wins (484) with Ed Belfour. Hereâ€™s a quote from Bobby Lu regarding the Pantherâ€™s recent success:
“I think weâ€™ve just got a bit of our swagger back”.
He may be right. The Panther power play which is number one in the league since November 1st continues itâ€™s rabid pace. The Hoffman goal was on the power play, yet the other 4 Panther goals were at even strength, and included a goal by Derick Brassard, his first as a Panther. That goal also set the record for quickest Panther goal to start a period (7 seconds). Frank Vatrano, Keith Yandle and Colton Sceviour rounded out the scoring for Florida. Those 4 goals all came at even strength, an area of their game that needs to improve, and that was good to see. Additionally, those goals came from players not named Barkov, Huberdeau and Dadonov. Balance is much needed, and last night the Panthers had some.
While the Panthers surrendered a two goal lead twice, and the game went into overtime, they were resilient. A little prevent defence appeared in the third period, and that has to stop. Itâ€™s that type of playing not to lose moments that can turn the game around, and in this one, it almost did.
The Panthers now embark on a 7 game homestand. This is the season, and if thereâ€™s any hope of getting into a playoff position, theyâ€™ll need 12 of the available 14 points.
And then thereâ€™s the looming trade deadline on February 25th.
Much of what occurs between now and then will determine what he Panthers are going to do. If they stay in contention, then possibly Brassard and Riley Sheahan who were rumored to be flipped after being acquired, stay. The goaltending tandem of Luongo and Reimer may stick together for the balance of the season, and get addressed in the summer.
The rumors about Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky have taken a different turn this week. They now share the same agent, Paul Theofanous and Panarin has all but said he wasnâ€™t to test free agency. Bobrovsky has no intention of returning to Lumbus. While the Panthers remain interested, they need to be careful how they approach this. A bidding war for both may not be won. Trading could be smarter if the players are signed at the same time.
Henrik Borgstrom was given the “night off” last night with back to back games this weekend. Not really a huge deal. Heâ€™s played a lot of hockey recently, and has been getting pushed around a bit. If the playoff picture was much different (closer), he may have been in the lineup. Not saying I agree, or disagree, but not worth the temporary uproar on social media when the news was announced.
Tampa is next, and thatâ€™s this evening with a 6:00 p.m. start. The Lightning are coming off a 5-4 victory last night against the Penguins. Tampa has the best record in the NHL and has 86 points. 14 more than the second overall team, the Calgary Flames. Louis Domingue is expected to start. His record this season is a nice 17-4-0 with a 2.95 GAA and a .906 save percentage. James Reimer is expected to start for the Panthers.
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