The Florida Panthers put together what was easily their biggest victory of the season last night over a very dangerous Toronto Maple Leafs team, and they did it in dominant fashion, and without star goalie, Sergei Bobrovsky. So what exactly went right for the Panthers and what did we learn about this team from their performance last night?
“Skill doesn’t like to be hit”
For those watching the game at home or at BB&T Center, you may have caught an interview during the first intermission between Jessica Blaylock and Josh Brown. He not only delivered the game’s first goal, but also the motto for the night, and hopefully the rest of the season. “Skill doesn’t like to be hit.” The Leafs came into Sunrise with a roster loaded from top to bottom with skill and high-end scoring talent all over the ice. The Panthers clearly didn’t care. The Cats simply punched them in the mouth from the second the puck dropped and the Leafs looked shell-shocked. The answer to why last night went the way it did is very plain. There were two incredibly talented, highly-skilled, dangerous, high-scoring teams on the ice. But the one in red played fast and angry. The Panthers swarmed the Leafs early, checked everyone who came in contact with the puck, and flew to loose pucks. That is how you beat a team who has as much talent as yours. The Leafs quickly folded, giving up breakaways, odd-man rushes, and handing turnovers to the Cats…because skill doesn’t like to be hit. The Leafs flat out did not know how to deal with the aggressive and relentless attack the Panthers threw at them. More often than not, teams in today’s NHL will collapse under that sort of pressure. The game-plan was clear and it worked, so there’s no reason for it to change going forward.
Trocheck Looks like trocheck again
Before he skated onto the ice post-game, stole Stanley C. Panther’s ATV, and took it for a joy ride around the rink (yes that actually happened. I recommend checking it out on Twitter.), Vincent Trocheck played what was his best game of hockey in almost two seasons. He assisted Josh Brown’s goal as a product of his incredible effort on the forecheck. He also assisted Mike Matheson on a huge slap shot goal. The assists have been piling up for Trocheck lately as his aggressive play style has slowly crept back into the game. But, last night he finally broke the ice with the wicked wrist shot on the rush that we used to see all the time from him. He never hesitated and he labeled one for the top corner on a 2-on-1 break. That was refreshing to see because the only part of his game that hadn’t come back yet was the goal scoring. I have to believe this is the start of a breakthrough in that area because his play all-around has gotten back to where it should be. The goals will come now. Last night was a great start against very tough competition. One goal, two assists, three points, and one stolen motor vehicle is a pretty impressive night when lining up against the centers Toronto puts on the ice.
The stars came to play, and are capable of playoff hockey
Coach Q said it best when he said this game was the most important of the season to date. The pressure was on, the building was packed and loud, Jonathan Huberdeau was on the verge of the Panthers all-time points record, the playoff race was in full swing, the Panthers NEEDED(!!!) a win. And they had to find a way to get it done against one of the NHL’s best teams and without the Cats’ elite goalie. There were a thousand reasons to lay an egg, to fold under the pressure, to have one of those classic let downs when the lights are too bright for our quiet team. But last night they looked a little more “Quenneville-ish.” They embraced a huge challenge against a loaded roster and took it to them with a little bit of bite and intensity. It was a case of the Panthers’ stars taking the steering wheel and driving the team to a huge win. Huberdeau, Trocheck, and Sasha Barkov charged the Panthers forward to a huge win as underdogs. The Panthers stars shined brighter than the likes of Matthews, Marner, Nylander, and Tavares. In the past, we might have seen our core players shy away from that challenge. But that is changing with Q at the helm. They’re learning how to win the big ones which is a trait that makes Q such a coaching legend. His teams are known for coming through in crunch time, with the spotlights on and backs against the wall. This team is showing signs. Boston on the road, Carolina on the road, Montreal at home (though that crowd was 50% hostile), and now Toronto at home, are all quality wins the Panthers had to have. And they are starting to routinely come through. If that trend continues, and they get even more comfortable winning the “have to have it” games, they could make some postseason noise. Games like this are as close as you can get to simulating a playoff game at this point in the season. And the result was impressive.
Panther fans bring some edge too
Lets be honest. The Panther fan base in general takes a lot of crap. Attendance jokes are everywhere, we sometimes share our arena with more away fans than we’d care to see, and being the southernmost team in the NHL, we all know there’s people out there who don’t think we should have hockey here (NO WE ARE NOT MOVING TO QUEBEC!! STOP SUGGESTING IT, YOU RANDOM PANTHER HATERS!). This is an incredibly loyal fan base that gets far too little respect. But every once in a while the fans deserve some love for their performance too. So I’m here to say, I see you guys and I heard you! To the guys in the club level behind the shoot twice net, you guys brought it! “It’s all your fault!” as Freddy Andersen was pulled from the game…fantastic! The “Go Leafs Go” chant getting drowned out and silenced the second it started…top notch! The standing ovation for Huby’s record-breaking point…deafening! And the “Hey Hey Hey, Goodbye!” as the exodus of blue sweaters started in the third period…ruthless! Home-ice advantage starts with fans creating a hostile environment of discomfort and difficulty for the opposing team. Last night the Panther faithful did their part and it was certainly noticeable. We should give credit where credit is due, so I figured I’d recognize the Territory for a solid, big-game performance! Well done!
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