The Florida Panthers (12W/7L/4OT) currently leading the SE Division in the Eastern Conference took on division foe Carolina Hurricanes ( 8W13L/4OT) who are residing in the basement of the same division tonight. Looking at the records, this game should be easy for Florida right? Well not so fast. The Panthers could be in for a case of wrong place, wrong time. They were playing at the RBC center in Carolina. However, the greater factor surrounding this encounter is the timing of when the Cats are catching the Canes.
The Carolina Hurricanes swept aside their head coach Paul Maurice and brought in new coach Kirk Mueller looking to rejuvenate a floundering team. It is uncertain what differences Mueller will bring to his team at this point, or how it will effect the Southeast division going forward.
The Panthers were faced with the possibility of walking into an arena with a fan base feeling a renewed hope, a coach with something to prove, and a team with a new sense of purpose. It is always difficult to win on the road, but tonight could have been harder than usual for all these reasons. What makes this game even more significant is that this is the first of six meetings between these two teams and could be a tone setting game for the rest of the series with the Hurricanes.
The Hurricanes playing with their third black uniforms I guess were not informed that Panthers unlike Bulls are not effected by seeing red or not. I’m not sure if they were hoping to present themselves as a different team or what but they certainly played with purpose.
In goal for the Panthers was Jose Theodore and Cam Ward in goal for the Hurricanes. In a fast moving 1st period. Theodore made a brilliant stop point blank from Skinner in the slot when he got a sweet behind the net feed from Sutter. Theodore made another point blank save on Ruutu and then he staved off multiple hack and whacks from Ponikarovsky. In the first period he was tested more than the Canes netminder but the score remained 0-0 at the end of the period. Florida were out muscled in the first period when Kris Versteeg took a high hard hit in the offensive zone which stunned him as he slowly went off.
In the second period Theodore started where he left off with a brilliant save on Staal. Luckily for the Panthers Theodore was on his game tonight. The Panthers were giving up too many shots in prime real estate the slot area in front of Theodore. Theodore had to feel like he had been pushed off a yacht and was alone in the middle of the ocean in a tiny lifeboat because his defense left him on an island most of the game.
Then shorthanded Kopecky got a semi breakaway but was unable to score. Finally the Panthers got their own power play when Fleischmann beat Ward glove side to put the Panthers ahead 1-0. Special teams bailing out the Panthers with great PK and PP and Jose Theodore with spectacular goal tending to that point in the game. Then with both teams at even strength, Jeff Skinner put his 10th goal of season past Theodore. His initial shot was from the slot again. Skinner was able to get his own rebound to pull the Hurricanes to a 1-1 tie. Again the middle of the ice was left unattended when Theodore came out of his net mid zone to make a stop late in the 2nd and keep the score tied.
The Panthers came out strong in the third. Carolina got another power play but the Panthers killed it off no problem. They went 5 for 5 on the penalty kill for the night. Then Jack Skille got a breakaway and was awarded a penalty shot as he was taken down from from behind by Pitkanen but Ward stopped him easily with his glove. The shot went right into Wards glove so still 1-1. Then with only 3:19 left in the game Matthias after good fore-checking got the puck to the net and Mathias banged it in from the side of the net giving the Panthers 2-1 lead. Carolina pulled Ward from net and then with an empty netter Matthias got his second goal for a 3-1 Panthers win.
As it turned out the Panthers were in the right place at the right time. This was a good road win for the Panthers. It is always a good win when you get two points against a divisional opponent. This game keeps Florida in first five points ahead of Washington Capitals. It was the special teams and goal tending that won this one.
The Panthers also are coming to a point in their schedule where they will be playing 7 games in 13 nights, 5 games of this stretch will be on the road. The Panthers play the tough LA Kings next on Thursday night. They will need to shore up their defense in front of Theodore when they face the Kings if they want to skate out of LA with two points. For now though they will be very happy to leave Carolina with a W.