State of the Territory: We May Win But I May Die (again)

Images property of Kim Smith (@kimsmithimages)

Not much to like these days if you’re a Florida Panthers fan, as long as you hate winning 6-straight and holding a division playoff spot going into the all-star break!

The Cats have turned up the heat recently, and at the right time as well. Lets look back at the past week of Panthers hockey to recap how it all went down.

1/4 vs LA: W 4-3

The Cats wrapped up a 4-game home stand with a match up against the LA Kings, where Evgenii Dadonov got the Panthers on the board just 6 minutes in off a pretty feed from newly named All-Star Jonathan Huberdeau. Frank Vatrano doubled the Panther lead in the second, the only goal in the period. The powerplay struck again, this time at the hands of Mike Matheson from the point, followed by Brian Boyle cleaning up on the doorstep to make it a 4 goal lead in the third for the Panthers. LA wouldn’t go out without a fight as they answered with 3 goals within 6 minutes of each other, but the Cats were able to slam the door late. Panthers backup Chris Driedger, filling in for injured Sergei Bobrovsky, found himself hurt midway through this game. Freshly called up Sam Montembeault was able to come in relief and make 22 saves, earning the win.

1/18 @ Det: W 4-1

To open a 6 game roadie, the Cats walked into Detroit to face the league-worst Red Wings. Jonathan Huberdeau found Evgenii Dadonov (you’ll notice a trend here) on a nice stretch pass, to which Dadanov finished to make it 1-0. Sometimes forward Mark Pysyk crashed the net and got rewarded with his 4th of the season to double the Cats lead. Dylan Larkin scored the only goal of the second period to cut the lead in half, but the Panthers trusty captain Aleksander Barkov scored in the third to restore a two goal lead for the Panthers. Denis Malgin scored an easy empty-netter to seal the 4-1 victory, while Sergei Bobrovsky stopped 27/28 shots faced in his return from injury.

1/20 @ Min: w 5-4

In what seems to be a haunted building when the Panthers show up, the Panthers walked into Minnesota, where Keith Yandle wasted no time in roofing one for the early Cats lead. Jared Spurgeon scored right before the first period ended to tie it. This back-and-forth trend continued in the second, which was rather heavy hitting. Aleksander Barkov scored his second in as many games with a silky flip over Alex Stalock’s shoulder on a partial breakaway that dropped some jaws. Luke Kunin scored to tie it when he found himself on a 2-on-1 chance while on the PK.

Evgenii Dadonov scored (yes again I know) 2 minutes into the third frame on the powerplay, but the Wild answered for the third time, this goal off the stick of Zach Parise. Kunin scored his second to give Minnesota their first lead of the night, but with 4:08 to play, Vincent Trocheck slid one through the Wild goaltender to tie it once more. With time winding down in the game and both teams seemingly settled on some 3-on-3 action to end the night, Mark Pysyk floated one from the point on net. Aaron Ekblad tipped the shot, followed by a slightly high (but legal) deflection from Noel Acciari to give the Cats the lead with just over 5 seconds to play (thanks to Jameson Olive for the illustration). The Panthers earned their first win in regulation at Minnesota EVER, I know its weird but true. Also, welcome back to the “We may win but I may die” era.

1/21 @ Chi: w 4-3

Coach Q’s long awaited return to Chicago featured a quality standing ovation for the former Blackhawks and current Panthers bench boss. The first period was as boring as they come, but the Panthers came out firing in the second. Evgenii Dadonov scored his 4th goal in 4 contests as he snuck a shot past Robbin Lehnner. Frank Vatrano snapped one home just minutes later to double the lead. After killing a Hawks powerplay, Aaron Ekblad made a silky move and found Frank Vatrano who scored again to give the good guys a 3-goal lead. Kirby Dach scored on a sick backhander to get Chicago back into it, but Frankie Vatrano scored his hat-trick goal on the powerplay to restore the 3-goal lead going into the third. The Hawks pushed for 2 late goals in the third, but the Panthers never buckled or wavered as they salted away their 6th consecutive victory in Q’s return to The Windy City.

Who’s hot?

Evgenii Dadonov: You might have noticed a little trend while reading this recap, and that’s seeing Dadonov’s name pop up in every game as a goal scorer. The Russian winger is up to 23 goals on the year, which is just 5 shy of his career high (28) which he achieved each of the past two seasons. Dadonov has been a key contributor on the Cats powerplay, adding much needed balance to the “one-trick pony” it once was.

Frank Vatrano: Out of nowhere, Frankie has started to look like the guy we saw last season. Vatrano has 14 goals on the year, and 4 in the past two games. His hat-trick against Chicago single handedly helped the Cats win and I think we can count on his offensive production continuing to trend upwards

Honorable Mention-Everyone: As you may know, the Panthers are riding a season-long 6-game win streak. In that time, they’ve outscored opponents 30-17 and have beaten multiple playoff teams such as Vancouver and Toronto. Putting wins together at this point in the season is pivotal to making a run at the playoffs, and it’s promising to see this team hit a stride at the right time. Currently sitting at 28-16-5, the Panthers are situated comfortably in the Atlantic Division’s 3rd place spot, 4 points ahead of Toronto.

The Week ahead:

While there aren’t any Panther games for the next week due to the All-Star break, make sure to tune into the NHL’s Skills Competition and All-Star game this Friday/Saturday to watch our very own Jonathan Huberdeau showcase his skills on a national stage.

Check back next week for another edition of State of the Territory!

Thanks for reading this article! You can follow along with Panther Parkway @pantherparkway on Twitter! You can also follow our writers: @FrankRekas, @Josh_LOPanthers, @CF3234, @JacobWinans8, @prudentia0, @Spencer_hoag, @Mister_Joester! Make sure to follow and listen to our podcast @LOPanthersPod All images unless otherwise noted are courtesy of @KimSmithImages