The Florida Panthers basked in the embers of the Toronto Maple Leafs last night after extinguishing the flames of one of the NHL’s hottest teams. The 4-1 victory was one of the Panthers better performances of the season. So does it come as any surprise then that their triumphant effort happened to coincide with a season-high 48 shots on goal?
I dont think so.
Although head coach Peter Horachek expressed concern over the Panthers effort in recent games, the Cats had all hands on deck in Tuesday night’s win. The Panthers commitment to outworking the Maple Leafs even manifested in an elusive powerplay goal when Tom Gilbert’s slapshot put the Panthers on the scoreboard with his 3rd goal of the year and 8th point in 9 games.
Aside from the aforementioned evasive powerplay goal, there were quite a few anomalies that really made this one of the Panthers most exciting games of the season.
Let us reminisce.
It’s no secret that reigning rookie of the year, Jonathan Huberdeau, has been Tangled Up In Blue all season long. Although the sophomore slump has fastened a firm grip around his body of work, we got to see him express some of that positively snake-bitten pent up aggression when he body slammed Jake Gardiner halfway through the game for the first fight of his NHL career.
When I initially saw Jonathan picking the fight I admittedly was concerned for his well being. But by the time he plowed Jake Gardiner onto the ice I felt that same wave of pure beardly manliness radiating from his aura that energized the Florida Panthers bench, as well as the BB&T Center, I sank back into lawn chair, sipped my pina colada, and bathed in the glory of the Miami sunshine.
Although Hubby couldn’t put together a goal to complete the Gordie Howe hat trick, last night was a breakthrough performance for him. That wasn’t just a typical fight, that was a game changing fight. Huberdeau flexed his beard muscles at exactly the right hour of the night, and if the Panthers were about to show any signs of slowing down at the halfway mark, they had to think twice after seeing Hubby throw it down like that.
Yet the Panthers didn’t really seem to slow down at all. They didn’t take their feet off the gas pedal from the moment the Killer B’s opened the game going to the final sound of the horn. The Barkov line set the tone as soon as the puck dropped by establishing sustained pressure in the offensive zone, and the Panthers didn’t wilt. The effort was contagious as all 4 lines playing inspired hockey culminated in the Panthers outshooting the Maple Leafs 19 to 4 in the first period.
After losing a series of games recently, this was an important win for the Panthers. Not only was it against a division rival, but it was against a team that decisively spanked them just a week prior and served as a shot of medicine for fresh wounds.
“This was probably our best game of the year”, said Tim Thomas afterwards.
Although there were plenty of reasons to smile after all was said and done, there’s one important lesson the Panthers have to internalize.
They have to know that they can beat any team in the league if they bring the effort for sixty minutes. On any given night if they all work together and work as hard as they’re capable of, the Florida Panthers can beat anyone. This team was built to win with hustle and grit, not with an offensive superstar. Besides, who needs an offensive superstar when Tim Thomas has your back?
If the Panthers can will themselves to outplay their opponent for 60 minutes they will defeat them. That’s really all it comes down to. And in a game where Jonathan Huberdeau dropped the gloves and Erik Gudbranson hit two posts, anything is possible.
Like Jovo said, “To win we need to play with intensity, because if not, we’re just a mediocre team.”
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