The Florida Panthers haven’t given up yet as they continue to fight for the final wildcard spot in the Eastern conference. After back-to-back wins on the road against the Pittsburgh Penguins and Buffalo Sabres, the Cats have earned four points in twenty-four hours and a pat on the back.
Although their opponents stood at polar opposites in the standings, these were two huge victories for the Panthers who have struggled to establish consistency all season long. Ask any Panthers fan and they’ll tell you that one of their most frustrating traits has been how the quality of the teams they face has been reflected in the quality of their effort.
Yet one night after spanking Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Florida Panthers pounced onto an airplane, flew into Buffalo, and fed upon the worst team in the NHL with that restless, hungry feeling every sports fan wants to see from their favorite team as they set their sights on that final wildcard playoff spot.
For the first time all season, the Panthers seemed to understand that celebrating a win against a first rate team would have been premature. After all, there’s really no reason to celebrate a win against a great team if you’re going to lose against a worse team the following night. At the end of the day, each victory is worth two points after all.
That’s exactly why I was happier to see the Panthers beat the Buffalo Sabres than the Pittsburgh Penguins. To be totally honest, the Penguins were probably just as guilty for coasting against lesser competition as everyone else does. But beating the Penguins is always a victory worthy of being proud of, and it’s always important for lesser teams to build off that type of momentum.
That’s exactly what the Cats did.
The fact that they were able to come out and earn two more points in regulation on tired legs after playing against the best competition in the world spoke volumes about their character and development. One of the biggest challenge any team faces is bringing their ‘A game’ against the worst team in the league.
That’s because in the world of sports it’s easy to feel like you don’t need to work so hard against lesser teams. I can understand if champions struggle to find it within themselves to play their hearts out against some the lesser teams in the league every now and then, but with the twentieth-anniversary logo printed all around the Florida Panthers and not a single Stanley Cup banner waving above them, they shouldn’t have to look too far outside of themselves to find reasons to bring their A-game every night.
But they do.
Let’s be honest here, none of these guys are responsible for what’s gone on for the past twenty years. Finnish sensation and Florida Panthers leading scorer, 18 year old rookie Aleksander Barkov wasn’t even alive when the Panthers were born. So if there’s going to be a transformation within the Florida Panthers locker room, it won’t be coming out of a sentimental advertisement harping on a twentieth anniversary, nor from any other marketing ploys conjured up by the Florida Panthers advertising department.
So where’s this spark coming from?
Perhaps some of their spark is trickling down from the front office now that Dale Tallon and Vincent Viola are bringing in the type of stability and investment that the Florida Panthers organization and their fans have never seen before.
Maybe some of it can even be attributed to the return of Captain Ed Jovanovski, who’s been contributing both offensively and defensively upon his return to the panthers lineup.
But at the end of the day, if there’s going to be any serious type of metamorphosis occurring within the Panthers organization, it’s going to have to spring forth from the hearts and farts of the guys inside the locker room.
Particularly, it’s gonna have to come from the young guns.
Panthers GM Dale Tallon has been harping on building a Stanley Cup contending team here in South Florida by selecting the right players from the draft to build around. For years now and he’s been filling up the squad with a young core of extremely talented, yet high-character players.
With the additions of Erik Gudbranson, Nick Bjugstad, Jonathan Huberdeau, and most recently – and perhaps importantly – Aleksander Barkov, the Panthers have established the core foundation of the heart and soul of this team.
And if anything we can gather anything from their recent play against the Buffalo Sabres last night and the Pittsburgh Penguins the night before that, it’s the fact that the Cats are appearing too mature to be celebrating prematurely.
Here’s a few reasons why:
1) Huberdeau is passing through his slump.
2) Bjugstad is still pouncing fearlessly towards the net.
3) Gudbranson wasn’t accused of murder while defending.
4) Barkov can rack up the points while injured (bless his soul).
5) The lines outside of the Killer B’s are clicking
6) Great Goaltending
So what’s next for the Panthers?
With their next game against the Colorado Avalanche on Friday, the next thing the Panthers have to prove to themselves and the rest of the NHL is that they can take two steps forward without taking one step back.
Panthers need to win.
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