Friday, November 27, 2009

Welcome Home


That's the sound of the Panthers crashing back down to reality after a string of 8 straight games with at least a point. 8-2-3 in their last 13 coming into the game, the Panthers reverted back to the form that got them into a hole to begin with. That defense sure looked like a bunch of cones on a driver's ed course. And they probably had the same decision making skills tonight too.

Home ice advantage be damned! Florida's 3-6-3 home record is good for 29th in the NHL, ahead of only the same Maple Leafs that beat us tonight. For a team that is desperate to build up a larger fan base, losing two out of every three times at home, including an entire three game home stand is not a good formula.

Now Florida has to worry which Scott Clemmensen shows up tomorrow night. Will it be solid Scotty C. or Swiss Cheese Clemmy? The two points up for grabs may hinge on that answer.

In an attempt to look on the bright side, like that giant sun on the top of Vokoun's mask, here's something to consider. The Panthers have made the playoffs three times in their history, all with Bill Clinton in office -- the last coming in his final year. Once George W. Bush took over, Florida never sniffed the playoffs. With a Democrat back in office, maybe the trend will change again? Come to think of it, maybe that sun has scrambled my brain more than my eyes.

Random thought of the night: Why doesn't anybody copy the trend of Boise State's blue field? How cool would my FAU Owls coming out on red turf look? Am I right? Who's with me? *Crickets*

Random hockey related thought of the night: Couple of huge comebacks tonight. Atlanta drowns Carolina in the dive pool with a third period rally and the Sharks drill the Oilers with a furious rally. The Hurricanes are like professional tankers. When they're good, they go all the way and when they're bad, they get a top five pick. Why can't we do that? We might as well be called the Florida DraftersInThe10-14SlotEr's.

That is all. It's good to be back.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Panthers Do Or Die

This is it.

The last call for all who care.

We've said games are must wins, but now they really are. Say what you want about mathematics, but a loss against Toronto tomorrow night will be the final nail in the coffin.

The end of a season that contained such promise.

Yet another season watching everybody but us in the playoffs.

Any player that can't get up for this one should be cut from the team, perhaps during the second intermission. Any player that doesn't dive to block a shot from the point should be benched. Any player that doesn't take that extra stride, step into the slot to get a shot off with a defender barreling down, does not belong on this team.

Looking at the schedule, this is one of our most winnable games left this season. We have lost four games in a row. Things have gotten so bad that a win tomorrow night doesn't even put us back into the top eight. But it certainly keeps hope with some critical games coming up.

This is not an overstatement. This is not a drill. This is an actual emergency. Had this been a test, the rest of this blog would go on to talk about the margin for error that we have left, and about the positives that we have taken from the past few games.

I repeat, this is an actual emergency.

That is all.

Playoffs or bust.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

An Ode To The Fans

As I watched our beloved Panthers blow a game in which they had every opportunity to turn a six-team-for-four-spot-mad-scramble into a five-team-for-four-spot-more-comfortable-race, my thoughts turned from the team to the fans. Before I go on, I would like to acknowledge that a Florida win tonight would not have eliminated Buffalo by any stretch, but looking at the standings, the gap would have been quite overwhelming. The gap is now nearly gone.

But what about the fans? In my last blog I wrote about what an easy job we have, but tonight it didn't seem like that made sense anymore. After thrashing my desk multiple times, throwing my remote across the room, and making enough bruises in my thighs to make grape jelly look silly, I realized the job of a fan isn't always easy. Maybe in some places it is. Detroit fans sure have it nice. What about Devils fans? The Canadiens fans have certainly had their share of joy to last a franchise. They have it easy.

Panthers fans have it rough. Maybe rougher than any other NHL team, save the Blue Jackets, who have never even experienced the postseason. The Cats have played, including tonight's contest, 642 games (this is the ninth year, eight full seasons, minus one for the lockout, plus 68 games this season) without a taste of playoff hockey. That means the fans have had to cheer their hearts out in 642 games, over 38,500 minutes, without a chance to wave a rally towel over their heads. Many opportunities to get our collective hopes up, only to be cheering for nothing but pride on the season's final battle.

Maybe this can give you an insight into a Panthers fan. Maybe this can show you a little bit of why I bitch and complain about the officiating when it goes bad. Maybe this can serve as a small, dim light as to why I didn't utter a sound for over an hour after tonight's loss. As the noose that is the playoff line got a little tighter around our necks, it is common for panic to set in. With so much disappointment, and so many rough stretches that most fans dare not dream of, there is not a team that needs a playoff berth more than us.

I hope these players can fathom these numbers. They need to know that they can not only be warriors on the ice for us, but also heroes for a lifetime, finally making a dream come true that shouldn't be so hard to ask for. Over half of the NHL will make the playoffs, as always, again this April. If Florida ends up, all too familiarly, without an X by its name as the games played column strikes 82, midnight on the proverbial clock, Panthers fans everywhere will be filled with a sense of emptiness again, as we watch our rivals battle it out for Lord Stanley's Cup.

Florida has 14 games left, 28 points, to change the fate of this once promising franchise. For the consequences of another postseason-less season may have grave effects, the likes of which not even the best franchises could bounce back from. Every player donning the leaping cat on his sweater does so with the fate of a franchise on his shoulders.

This is a battle royale, in which only the strong survive. It no longer matters who we take down, nor in what fashion we do so. Ninth place is not an option. As I have written so many times, and will write again so many more...

Playoffs or bust.

Monday, March 9, 2009

A Call To Rise

It's been a long time since times have been so desperate in Florida. Then again, it's been just as long since times have needed to be this desperate.

Mired in mediocrity and given up for dead at the beginning of the season, the Florida Panthers are alive and kicking in the Eastern Conference playoff picture. We won games that nobody said we could. We've gotten lucky, earned more than our share, been ripped off and had bad bounces, but here we are, with a chance to do what no Panthers team has done in so long.

We fans have the easy job. We get to sit, on the edge of our seats mind you, and watch everything. You guys have the tough job. No Horty and no Caber, but still we must press on, into the Igloo where the Penguins play has been melting ice lately. No team has escaped a game against Pittsburgh with two points in a half dozen games, yet we stare this task down right in the face with a shorthanded roster.

Then we go to Buffalo, for the first time since one of our own nearly gave his last breath to the game he loved. Now, he will lead us, back onto the ice of our temporarily rivals, but family at heart. They have suffered as much hardship as we have. Yet they are still breathing, surviving time without leading scorer Vanek, and still without backbone Miller. Two hurting teams battling for two huge points, settling for less no longer an option.

Tampa comes calling this weekend, and carries with them a gunner that almost finished one of our own with a knee to the hip. Peg leg Pelty carries on, and so do we. Two points on the line in a game we must win, as not many opportunities such as this one lie on the remaining battle front. Back in front of the home faithful, you will have help in your pursuit of victory, with the roar of a seventh man.

Anyone who wants to get off, the bus stops once more. If you don't think you can handle the rest of the journey, you see the exit. One last call to join us on our journey, one that I have given many sore throats and thousands of miles to. I have spent many a night without uttering a tone, after a heartbreaking loss that could shatter the foundation of any base. I've spent many a night bouncing off of walls, matching my tone to the goal horn's, celebrating huge victories. I have given what I can, albeit a small sacrifice, to an ultimate journey that started so many moons ago.

South Florida has been transformed from a place people looked forward to arriving, to a place of battle, where the Cats rise victorious more often than not. No more comments about how horrible we are or what an easy game is coming up. Instead, rival fans come to tell us how much they enjoy watching us play. This is thanks to nothing other than the effort you give night in and night out.

Times may look tough without a couple of our warriors, but they will be back. You musn't deviate from the task at hand. So many of us are behind you, celebrating every goal with you, and licking the wounds of every defeat.

This is a call to rise. Let every Panthers fan from South Florida to Israel, from Greece to the Bronx, be heard as one.

Playoffs or bust.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Finding Negativity In Beautiful Spaces

When Florida returned from their difficult road trip with a 3-2 record, I was beyond thrilled. After all, with the places we played in, and the teams we got off our schedule for good, it was a great showing. However, after last night's dreadful loss to Pittsburgh, we find ourselves tied for 6th through 8th now, and with a very weak grip on the playoff line.

Let's take a closer look at the trip. The two losses? Complete blowouts, losing to Boston 6-1 and New Jersey 7-2. The three wins? A come from behind two goals in 60 seconds to squeak by the flailing Rangers, a convincing win over Washington who can't beat anybody lately, and a 4-3 nail biter against the worst home team in the NHL. Not exactly a statement road trip, despite the record.

With both Buffalo and Carolina welcoming in road teams that just played the night before, the Panthers could easily find themselves one point away from 10th place in the East again, by the end of the night. That would certainly make Saturday's game against St. Louis a must win again. Florida follows that game by once again embarking on a road trip to red hot Pittsburgh and resurgent Buffalo. Those are two teams we are battling with, and we must win in hostile territory to keep our hopes alive.

My current thoughts:

-Anybody else wish we had just traded Bouwmeester? He played horribly last night and again looks like he wants to be anywhere but here. He let Crosby go around him and score the deflating tying goal, and missed an open shot on net by no less than 26 miles in the third period.

-Man Pittsburgh fans are getting to be quite stereotypical. I've never seen so many high school girls at a hockey game in South Florida before. Plus, just for kicks, I saw a guy wearing a Crosby jersey with his arm around another guy. Just sayin...

-Oh yeah, this is a hockey game, not a football game! Put your stinkin' terrible towels away. They just show you're not a real hockey fan.

-Poor Steve Eminger. His first noticeable play as a Panther is a penalty. Four penalty minutes is not a great debut, but I put more blame on Cullimore, who really needs to be benched. He was a great addition last season, but he has slowed down beyond reason at this point. Bring Boynton back to pair with Ballard, and let McCabe play with Eminger.

-Speaking of the defense, how does a defense that is so talented give up so many shots? Vokoun must have bruises after games at this point. We have given up 35-40 shots in just about every game lately.

-What's that ping? Oh Nathan Horton must have shot the puck. Seriously, for a guy that waits as long to shoot as he does, he sure has no aim. Or maybe he's playing a hypothetical game of three bar everytime he's out there.

-Sad to see how many people left after the fourth goal last night. Just shows how many bandwagoners are back.

-Did I mention Saturday is a must win? Please win it Florida.

Let's hope for some out of town scoreboard magic between now and the game Saturday. This race is getting tighter and tighter by the day.

Panthers playoff chances: 81.1% (Trending Down)

Playoffs or bust.

Monday, March 2, 2009

(Washington) Monument[al] Victory

When Washington scored on the powerplay just over a minute into yesterday's tilt between the Panthers and Capitals, don't even pretend that you were calm. After Saturday's embarrassment, the second in three games, and team chemistry being called into question with the sending home of Boynton and injuries to Vokoun and Stillman, many Panthers fans had their hands hovering over the panic button.

However, much like their fellow feline Felix, these Cats reached into their bag of tricks again, and pulled out an improbable and impressive victory to become the first NHL team this season to beat Washington twice in D.C.

And so, the Panthers did what I asked, in winning one of the two games this weekend. Because of that, Florida now officially survives the most difficult part of their schedule. All we could have asked for was trading wins and losses during this stretch, and that's exactly what they did. Now the schedule becomes normal again, but the boys can't let up. They must go to Atlanta tomorrow, a place we don't usually play extremely well in, followed by hosting Pittsburgh and St. Louis, two teams fighting for their playoff lives. Perhaps the schedule doesn't get all that much easier, as Florida goes from playing great teams to playing desperate teams. Sometimes, that can be all the more dangerous.

My current thoughts:

-Yes, I know the title is a stretch. The parentheses are for clarification, while the brackets are part of the title. "Monumental Victory" with a "Washington Monument" allusion. Yeah, on second though, the title probably wasn't worth it...

-Three for three on the powerplay? In the first period? On the road? Forget about asking who these Panthers are, give me the names of this officiating crew and make sure they stay with us. We usually don't get three powerplays in a game, let alone in the first period.

-Four of the hardest games of the season, on the road, without our starting goalie, and three without a top six forward. 2-2 is beautiful.

-Things in rearview mirror may be larger than they appear. All of a sudden Pittsburgh is just two points behind us, while Toronto has somehow jumped back into the race. Our come from behind victories over them are looking pretty fortunate right now.

-Speaking of the rearview, one team is pulling away and that's Montreal. They went from a team I thought we had no chance of catching, to a team fighting for their playoff lives, and now they're back to nearing that first category again. One extra team (Toronto) fighting for one less spot (if Montreal keeps winning) means the race gets all the more frightening, with six teams for three spots, rather than four.

-Look at the finished opponents now. Boston - done. New Jersey - done. Montreal - done. New York Rangers - done. That means four of the top seven teams in the conference (including three of the most talented) are off the schedule. The Cats are going to need to take care of business many times for the rest of the season if they are to finally make the playoffs.

Nothing to watch out for on the scoreboard tonight, but plenty of action tomorrow. Let's hope we can beat Atlanta, who is coming off a big victory over the Hurricanes. And make sure everybody gets out to the BankAtlantic Center to welcome home our boys Thursday against the Penguins. Boo all Crosby and Malkin jerseys.

Panthers playoff chances: 88.9% (Trending up)

Playoffs or bust.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Must Win, Win

Heading into Madison Square Garden last night, there was really only one thing on my mind for the Florida Panthers.

Must win.

I know saying that a game is a must win is always a panic statement, but looking ahead at the schedule, the Panthers third period comeback denied what could have easily grown into at least a four game losing streak.

For as far as the Panthers have come this season, and they have come miles and miles, asking them to win in New Jersey against Marty Brodeur, and in Washington against the Super Capitals, on a back to back, is a tough thing to ask indeed. Not to mention Florida has to finish the road trip at Atlanta, against a team they have not had too much success against on the road in recent years. Simply put, last night's win was monumentally huge, even if it wasn't pretty. Craig Anderson showed why, once again, he has truly been an unsung hero for this team at times. And the team once again showed its heart and fight to comeback in a game that they needed very badly.

Most current thoughts:

-The Cats came back to win for the first time when trailing after two periods against a team not named Toronto. That is another step in the right direction, and should be another confidence booster as the season gets closer to the end.

-I think I heard screaming obscenities from Panthers fans across the land as the clock ticked down to triple goose eggs in regulation in the Buffalo/Carolina game. Somebody win in regulation, for all that is good. Last night's result was probably the worst one we could have hoped for. And somehow the dive team racked up a 6-1 powerplay edge over a team that had one of the best differentials in the league. They were at home in the swimming pool. Just sayin'...

-Would anybody else gladly accept one win, if offered, out of the two we play this weekend? If Florida can somehow win one of these two very difficult games, they will have officially escaped the most difficult stretch of the season unscathed.

-After the Panthers finish the last three games of this five game trip, they will set up with 11 home games and 7 road games left for the season. That is a very nice split, and hopefully will keep the boys fresh enough to play well all the way to the end.

-Does anybody else just want the Jay Bouwmeester saga to end? Jacques Martin has done great things as GM, and I trust he will do the right thing here. I just want this situation to be resolved by the trade deadline next week.

-Another scoreboard watching night for Panthers fans. Montreal is in Philadelphia, where a Philly regulation victory would give us the game in hand to catch the Habs, and Pittsburgh is in Chicago, where the Blackhawks could keep the Penguins out of the rearview mirror in the East. So go home teams!

This is definitely a huge weekend for the Panthers, with a couple of afternoon games coming up in hostile environments. Let's hope Vokoun gets over his ear infection and Stillman's foot heals up quickly. Those are two guys we need in the lineup.

Panthers playoff chances: 89.7% (Trending up)

Playoffs or bust.