If you want to be a contender you must face the champ and ultimately beat the champ. The Panthers did face the champs Thursday night at TD Garden in Boston. The Florida Panthers needed to see how they stacked up against the best, maybe not to prove anything to the league but to themselves. They found some answers and saw exactly how they measured up.
This game on paper appeared to be a duel of Goalies with Jose Theodore in net for the Cats and Tim Thomas going for the B’s coming in having won 10 straight in the nets. Tim Thomas is coming in with the third best GAA in the league of 1.87 and a SV% of .940 which is second best in the league. This game did not disappoint.
The Bruins are leading the league with 5 on 5 differential of 1.76 so trying to stay with them full strength presents a challenge for all teams. They lead the league in face-offs at 55.1% which shows they maintain puck control. The Bruins also are theNHL’s leader on the PK with 86.9% in this holiday season it is fair to say that the Bruins are the Ebenezer Scrooges of the NHL.
The concern for the Panthers was could they get some firepower from their other lines as the Bruins would no doubt be loading up against the Fleischmann/Weiss/ Versteeg line. The Panthers needed to make no mistakes or Theodore would have to have a night of gymnastics that would make Olga Korbut proud.
Most of the first period saw Boston dominate with turnovers in the Panthers’ zone and the neutral zone. The B’s had great forechecking presence in the Panthers zone. The Panthers could have had the motto “I’d rather be lucky than good” when the Bruins rang the pipe three times but remained off the score sheet. The period ended 0-0 but there was plenty of action.
The second period saw more balance with the Panthers getting more play in the Bruins end of the ice. As the period and the game wore on you felt like one goal might actually win the game. The Bruins went 0 for 5 on the power-play and I thought that might come back to haunt them particularly since they hit the Panthers goal posts twice again on a PP but still no score and that is how the period ended.
As the third period started I had a horrible thought, please do not let a shoot out determine this game. I looked for each team to step up the intensity especially the Bruins as they have scored the most goals in the final period in the league only Ottawa has scored more in the third. Once again the Bruins like in the first period were dominating the Panthers. If it was not for the great goaltending of Theodore the Bruins should have had a couple of goals. Finally with 2:32 left in the period Thomas gave up a rebound in the slot and Kopecky was there to bang it in. Versteeg got an empty netter to end the game 2-0 Cats
There are different types of skills in hockey. How I would equate this game is the Bruins are like a street smart, brawny inmate armed with a shiv that makes a nasty jagged cut. The Panthers adept at inflicting pain with precision and speed armed with a scalpel that perhaps inflicts a deeper wound because they know exactly how and where to hurt you the most. A great game played between two division leaders.
In the end Boston out played the Panthers for the majority of ice time but could not deliver the final blow. Maybe it was just meant for the Panthers to win tonight with all the shots off of their goal posts. One thing is for certain, answers were served up by the Florida Panthers. Bawstun, there is a contender in the East, one that is serious about becoming the new champ.