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.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Name on the Back

With not much going on in the hockey world today, I figured I would take a break from my normal style of blog, in favor of something somewhat related that has been on my mind lately.

For those people that know me, it is understood that the Florida Panthers are one of the only home town teams I support. I also love my Florida Atlantic University Owls, but that is pretty much where the South Florida love ends. However it wasn't always like that.

I was as big a Florida Marlins fan as there was. I won't repeat the entire story because it is one I've told far too many times, but I stopped being a Marlins fan sometime in the 2006 offseason, when fan favorites Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis were abruptly traded for kids. After seeing all my favorite players being sold to the highest bidder for the umpteenth time, I ended my fanhood of the Florida Marlins. I felt betrayed by the orgnaization, and refused to support a franchise that did not support me.

Ever since, I have been heckled by the Marlins faithful for failing to root simply for the logo on the front. To them, the name on the back means little, and who can blame the poor folks who have seen every player they have ever known and loved traded to another team. They claim that their owners are the best and smartest in the business because they can get the best lineup for the cheapest amount of money. They get great young talent in trades for their stars, but as soon as those young guns turn into stars themselves, they are gone as well. The long term signing of Hanley Ramirez was an acception, not the rule, for the most frugal franchise in the history of professional sports.

My purpose for writing this blog is not to deny that one should root for the logo on the front. I am a Panthers fan for life, assuming Jeffery Loria and Larry Beinfest (Marlins owner and GM) don't take over the team. I am nothing if not a true fan. I did not cry foul when captain Olli Jokinen, arguably the team's best player in some aspects, was traded this past offseason, because I knew the team was improving itself. We didn't receive young kids to eventually be traded as well. We got many important pieces, including a franchise defenseman, one who will be here for at least the next six years.

Keith Ballard, Nathan Horton, Stephen Weiss, and Rostislav Olesz, are under contract until 2013. Bryan Allen and Michael Frolik are under contract until 2012. Cory Stillman, Tomas Vokoun, and Bryan McCabe are under contract until 2011. I'm not saying that a player or two may not make it with the team for that long, but the fact is I know who is on my team, and I know who is going to be on my team next year. Can any Marlin fan honestly say they know anybody but Ramirez will be with the team past this season? If you can, you're fooling yourself. Everybody is up for grabs. Anybody worthwhile that is.

My favorite Florida Panther is Keith Ballard. I have his jersey, I have met him, talked to him, and have my jersey personally signed to me. My next favorite is Michael Frolik -- I have his autograph, met him and talked with him, and the background on my cell phone is a picture of me and him. I am currently drafting a get well letter to injured defenseman Bryan Allen. I even have had Panthers radio play by play man Randy Moller on my radio show, and I keep in contact with him through email. A true fan, in my opinion, isn't just a fan of the team's name. They love the players that make up the team as well. When the Panthers battle, I'm proud of them as a team, and on personal levels. When a player takes a cheap shot, I feel it personally. This is my team, but it is also a family of sorts, and I look forward to developing even stronger relationships with them as the years go on.

I don't consider my ex-relationship with the Marlins as my fault. The organization pushed it, and pushed it, and finally they allienated this fan enough to stop caring. Maybe that contributes to the days where barely a few thousand people make it to the game.

I am quite content in my decision, and I do not question anybody who did things the same as me, or differently. Those who remained Marlins fans, that is their choice and that's great. I cannot stand for it, and I don't blame anybody else who can't either.

So as the Panthers finally make a strong push for the playoffs, for the first time in so many years, I will be at every home game, despite the hour drive each way, screaming my lungs out and cheering every good play with pride. See, I know the names on the back without seeing anything but a silhouette or a hair style. It comes with the territory of continuity, something my Marlins friends know little about.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

30 And Counting

The shutout is getting a lot of use at Panthers games lately. Florida, coming off of being shutout by Chicago, after shutting out New Jersey, shutout the Boston Bruins yesterday, for their 30th win of the season.

Reading that statement was probably about as pretty as the game was last night. The Panthers did not play a stellar game, and were bailed out on multiple occasions by Tomas Vokoun, who had one of his best games of the season. Radek Dvorak found a scoring touch, and potted two goals, including his third shorty of the season.

It doesn't exactly matter how the Cats got it done, but those two points were extremely important. We know Florida has to avoid a lengthy losing streak during this tough stretch of games, so I will definitely take trading wins and losses against the likes of Washington, New Jersey, Chicago, and Boston. Now the Panthers have to do it on the road, which will be the ultimate test for the Panthers.

Yes the Panthers have had a tough schedule this month, but most of the games have been at home. The Panthers boast a very impressive 17-8-5 home record. Now the Panthers go on the road for five straight, and four of the games are against playoff teams, including the three Eastern Conference division leaders again. The Panthers are 13-13-3 on the road this year, the definition of average. However they are one of just seven Eastern Conference teams to be at .500 or better away from home.

My current thoughts:

-In the Panthers last nine home games, they are 7-0 when I am there, and 0-2 when I am not. Fear not though, I am currently making plans to make sure I attend every home game for the rest of the season.

-Last year Florida finished with a record of 38-35-9. They would have to go 8-14-1 the rest of the way to equal that.

-Following Carolina-Colorado right now online. What a shock, Carolina with the only powerplay so far in the game. That brings their powerplay differential to +44 on the year (Florida is a -11). Avs with a 1-0 lead though.

-Speaking of the out of town scoreboard, a big thanks to Washington for keeping Pittsburgh at bay, with a 5-2 victory today. Sorry to any Cats fans that think we still have a shot at the division, but we need to make the playoffs above all else. The Penguins are still too close for comfort.

-&$*&@$ The Carolina Powerplays tie it up. Even strength?! No way. Matt Cullen's 17th. Wasn't he a Panther? (Research: Yes he was. Never scored more than 13 with us.)

-Oh what a shock, Carolina back to the powerplay. Colorado, two minutes for wearing white. +45...

-I'm not sure what I want the Bruins to do today in Tampa. If they win, they might not be as desperate when we play them Tuesday, but they may be back into a groove. Either way, it's going to be tough to win in Boston.

-The zebras strike again. Another powerplay for the Powerplays. +46...

Not much hockey going on tomorrow, with only one Western Conference game. Tuesday will be another big day. We need Colorado and Toronto to give us good efforts tonight. Not exactly the two teams I would have picked to help us, given the choice.

Panthers playoff chances: 81.3% (Trending up)

Playoffs or bust.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Panthers Prowling

With such a long stretch of spectacular teams on the Panthers schedule, all lined up in a row, we all knew the fear was a long losing streak.

Visions of previous seasons, staring up at the playoff line in the month of March, still fresh in our memories.

However, the Panthers bounced back from a tough loss against Washington to defeat the New Jersey Devils, 4-0. In a game that wasn't quite as dominant as the score might indicate, Tomas Vokoun was brilliant and the big names all showed up on the scoreboard. Any night with Weiss, Horton, Stillman, and Zednik on the score sheet is a good one.

This game definitely produced one of my favorite quotes from the season thus far. They said on NHL On The Fly last night that, "this game was a measuring stick for the Florida Panthers and they took that measuring stick and bashed it over the heads of the New Jersey Devils."

I still can't believe we're talking about the Panthers. Not the Carolina Panthers. Not the Pittsburgh Panthers. Not even the Florida International Golden Panthers. The Florida freakin' Panthers!

My current thoughts:

-Have you ever had to face the decision of going to a game when sick? Add onto that the fact that it was after a school day, an hour drive from home, and a cold sporting event. I went, and I'm glad the Panthers justified my decision. But if I don't feel better, I won't be able to go tomorrow.


-Enough about me, how about our boys?! Shutting out the second, make that third, best team in the East. Does anybody still want to play Washington over New Jersey if we make the playoffs?

- Anybody else still a little tentative about playing Boston two times in a row after tomorrow's game? I can't tell if I'm really nervous or if my Tylenol is wearing off.

-Tomorrow is quite the day, huh? We play, and so does Carolina, Pittsburgh, Montreal, and Buffalo. We could be anywhere from tied for 6th place with a 7 point playoff cushion, to alone in 8th with a 3 point edge.

Sorry for the few post game thoughts, but I'm glad that I was even able to write this. Hopefully the Cats can put up another huge effort tomorrow night, and take advantage of a team playing its 10th road game of their last 11 games played.

Panthers playoff chances (before tonight's results): 83.5% (Trending Up)

Playoffs or bust.

Monday, February 16, 2009

One Man Show

There are some players that we play against that I don't like, and continue to dislike after the game is over. A guy like Sidney Crosby, whose multiple cheap shots and overall whiny demeanor come into play, would be on that list. But then there are others that I just don't like to play against. A guy like Alex Ovechkin would fit under that category.

Two and a half minutes away from a very large point in the standings, Ovechkin pulled out another one from his bag of tricks, en route to a hat trick, and beyond the margin of victory. Washington is far from a one man team, but without Ovechkin yesterday, we win that game easily. I said that this was our best chance against Washington for the rest of the season, and I stand by that. This is a team that I don't think we can beat again this year.

Blame the loss on whatever you want, but the only real thing that deserves this blame is the powerplay unit. Florida is notorious for getting the short end of the stick from the officials, but wound up with eight powerplays yesterday. To only score on one of them is an embarrassing 12.5%. If this doesn't get fixed, Florida will be hard pressed to make the playoffs, let alone do well in them.

In the past, all it took was one loss and it seemed like the season was doomed. I don't think that is the mentality anymore, but with a brutal stretch of nothing but division leaders and the equally strong Blackhawks, the Panthers really have to avoid a lengthy losing streak. If Florida can play .500 hockey just for this small stretch, and then turn it on again when the schedule eases up a little in March, they should be in decent shape. However, if the Cats can't find a way to beat these teams, they may find themselves needing to make another run in March.

My current thoughts:

-$#&@#*&% Washington &$&#$*&#%. Yeah.

-If Nathan Horton's shot moves a quarter of an inch, we probably win. Hockey is a very frustrating game sometimes.

-Forward, I mean defenseman, Mike Green didn't score against us! There's one positive.

-Anyone else feel we're the only team of consequence that has lost to the Islanders lately? They're getting blown out of the water left and right, and you can't help but feel like those four points we left in Long Island could come back to hurt us. Please beat the Penguins today!

-Although we didn't lose too much ground on the teams in front of us, Carolina's playoff chances went up 10.7% yesterday. We're still nowhere near the point where we can concentrate on seeding. We have to make the playoffs first. It's a journey that is not nearly complete.

-Florida is really going to need to use their up-tempo style over the next few games. They have a lot of home games strung together, and especially against a road-logged team like Chicago, we have to carry the play to win. We don't match up on paper with any of these upcoming opponents.

Make sure you still get on out to the BankAtlantic Center this week. The Cats need to feed off the energy. Let's give 'em that seventh man.

Panthers playoff chances: 77.1% (Trending down)

Playoffs or bust.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Shootout Winners

If it wasn't apparent already that everything has been aligning for the Panthers lately, last night should have confirmed that. After a three-goal-deficit-come-from-behind-victory and a shutout victory in Carolina, the Florida Panthers have pulled another rabbit out of their hat. They finally won a shootout. And not only did they win a shootout for just the third time this season, but also they beat a team that was 9-3 in them, and coming off a victory over Washington in one.

The shootout was an exciting ending to a game that, although containing a lot of playoff intensity at times, lacked scoring, and at times excitement. The Rangers got on the board with a questionable goal, after Tomas Vokoun appeared to have the puck covered. Nick Boynton received a ridiculous amount of penalty minutes, after sticking up for a cheap shot on David Booth. Booth took a marginal penalty with four minutes remaining, in a game that was not being called closely at all. Why does it always seem the officiating is slanted against us?

Yet the Panthers prevailed over the Rangers and the zebras, and it was Richard Zednik playing the hero again. Of course, one cannot leave out Tomas Vokoun, who stood on his head during the shootout, stopping all four shooters he faced.

Now the Panthers really get into the rough part of their schedule. Washington, New Jersey, Chicago, and Boston all come into town. Those are four teams that are fourth place or better in their respective conference. This is going to be a huge test for the Panthers, and could show if this team is ready to make the leap into the playoffs.

My current thoughts:

-Did anyone else miss Don King? He made 47 appearances in the Florida/Toronto game, but was nowhere to be found yesterday. Part of me is kidding, and the other part wishes I could hear him say "AtTheBankAtlanticCenter" in one second flat again.

-How hot is Richard Zednik? He's always been known as a streaky goal scorer, and it is once again being shown here. Let's hope he can stay on this roll for another few weeks.

-Big props to King Henrik for keeping the Rangers in it, but does anybody think Nathan Horton helped make his third period save look a lot better than it should have been? If Horton puts any air under his shot, it's an empty net goal.

-How much of a luxary is it to be able to roll four lines out there? Does anybody think we would have had the legs to finish off a back to back without this ability? I actually think Anthony Stewart is the best player on the fourth line.

-We need to take advantage of playing Washington on no rest tomorrow. The Capitals are an average road team at best, and are 4-5-1 this season on the second of a back to back. If we are to have any chance at making a run at the division title, tomorrow is a must win. We won't have a better chance to beat them.

-Anyone else fed up with San Jose? In the last week and change, they have allowed the 8th, 9th, and 10th seeds in the East to win in a shootout. So not only are they allowing teams to hang tight with the Panthers, but also are still taking a free happy meal point for themselves. Detroit will be ahead of them by next week.

-There's no other way to describe the Avalanche breaking Montreal's cold streak than a traveshamockery. Thanks a lot Colorado.

Tomorrow will be the first time in nine home games that I am not at the Bank Atlantic Center. Considering my hour drive, that is pretty impressive, but I will be back in attendance against New Jersey on Tuesday. The intensity there has been amazing lately, and I want to be there to experience it all. Good luck boys, and I'll be watching with baited breath.

Panthers playoff chances: 79.3 (Trending up)

Playoffs or bust.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Exorcising More Demons

In a season that has been anything but ordinary for the Florida Panthers, yet another improbability occurred. Listen carefully as I state the following set of facts.

Florida beat the Carolina Hurricanes by 5.

With a shutout.

In Carolina.

Anthony Stewart scored.

I threw in that last part in case the first set of circumstances didn't take your breath away. The Panthers played an outstanding game, and Tomas Vokoun was masterful in becoming the first goaltender to shutout the Hurricanes this season. In the Battle of Eighth Place, it was the Panthers coming out on top, and putting a slight cushion betwixt themselves and the playoff line.

Now Florida has to come home and play the rested New York Rangers on a back to back tonight. The BankAtlantic Center should be as raucous as it's been in years, and I am beyond excited for the game. You can't expect the boys to be perfect on no rest, but a win tonight would be mammoth in the standings.

If everything goes right tonight, the Panthers could be tied for 6th place, with an inside track to the 5th spot.

I can't believe I just typed that sentence. Tell me I would have when the Panthers were at the bottom of the league a few months ago, and I call the men with the white jackets on you.

Florida's victory in Carolina was just the second one in the last 19 games there. Or, one could be more positive, and say the team has gone 2-1-1 there in their last four games. Perhaps the demons from the dive pool in Raleigh are finally being exorcised. Speaking of that, hopefully Florida isn't visited by any spirits tonight on Friday the 13th.

My current thoughts:

-Doesn't it seem like Kamil Kreps just can't buy a goal? He rang one off the iron last night, and had two glorious opportunities in front of the net, and blew them. I'm not saying he is playing particularly poorly, but right now it's him or Brett McLean for our weakest link award.

-How many people out there still want the Panthers to trade Vokoun and make Anderson the starter? I'm not taking anything away from Craig. He's great. But Vokoun is the only goalie that keeps us in the running to do anything in the playoffs, if we get there, in my humble opinion.

-Does anyone else wonder how amazing our defense would be this year with Bryan Allen instead of Jassen Cullimore? We already have one of the most impressive defenses in the NHL, and that's without one of our best defensive defenseman. While not being awful, Cullimore has clearly been our weakest defenseman, and I do wonder how Bryan Allen would be doing. We wish Bryan a full recovery and a chance to do wonders with us next season.

-An interesting stat on the broadcast last night -- the Panthers last 10 goals have come from the forwards. That's a huge statistic, as we were definitely relying far too much on the blue line to score. If we want to continue to have success, the forwards are going to need to keep this up.

-Just to show you how far this team has come, anybody remember the first game of the season? Florida, in Carolina, was up 2-0 after the first period, just as they were in last night's game. If I remember correctly the game was tied by the first few minutes of the second period. This game, Florida grabs a 5-0 lead after two periods. This team has come a long way.

-It feels nice to finally have trust in the coach and the GM at the same time. With Jacques Martin as coach, or Mike Keenan as GM, I really didn't feel comfortable. Now I have faith that Pete DeBoer behind the bench and Martin in the front office will make the right moves to help this team.

Hopefully the Panthers can post another strong effort tonight and move closer to their ultimate goal of the postseason.

Panthers playoff chances: 75.9 (Trending Up)

Playoffs or bust.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Do You Believe Yet?

As Toronto netted their fourth goal of the game, I turned to my girlfriend and said, "Well that about wraps this one up."

Four Panthers goals and two mosh pit celebrations later, and as Smash Mouth once said, "I'm a believer."

It's not as if tonight's game turned me in a complete 180. I have been believing a lot more for a while now. But as we Panthers fans know, it's been tough to completely forget the demons of the past years. We were the ones constantly on the wrong side of these types of games, and now we're the ones breaking hearts and stealing points.

Even though every part of me wanted to get up and leave after Florida fell behind by a field goal with 12 minutes left, the fan in me would not let me go. I've never walked out on this team, and now I know it would be foolish to do so. Just ask the thousands that heard the epic comeback on their radios instead of cheering in the stands.

Richard Zednik was a hero tonight, and on the one year anniversary of his terrible accident, no one deserved it more.

In reality, Florida should not be happy with their overall effort. They were grossly outplayed for much of the game, and it took a comeback of miraculous proportions to salvage a game that they had to have.

As always, my post game thoughts:

If the Panthers somehow make the playoffs this year, Peter DeBoer has to be Coach of the Year. The losing mentality that he has helped erase is nothing short of amazing.

Want to think of another reason for this change in thought process? Look no further than Cory Stillman. He makes his share of mistakes, but he didn't win Cups in Carolina and Tampa Bay by accident. You can't help but think he's in the locker room every night telling the boys they aren't out of it. It's also no coincidence that he has been instrumental in both of the Panthers comebacks against Toronto in the past week.

Maybe another reason for Florida's third period success: the rolling of four lines. While most other teams attempt to play their fourth lines as little as possible, the Cats feel quite comfortable with a grind line that wins many of their shifts. This helps to keep legs fresh, and helps them battle to the end.

Speaking of that fourth line, congrats on your goal Brett McLean, but you're still horrible. It took him just getting in the way of a shot to get his fourth of the year. He is the worst plus/minus player on the team, and is the one player that needs to go the most.

As for Nick Boynton, how in the world did he get the third star? He had a brutal game, directly leading to the Leafs second goal. His shot off the boards that led to Horton's goal was pure luck, and it's tough to know he is commanding three million dollars of our salary. I don't expect him to be back next year, at least not with a significant pay drop.

Speaking of Horton this time, is anyone else fed up with him? If he doesn't have five seconds to load up his shot, he can't get it off. Most of the time he gets his stick checked, or he passes off a golden opportunity. His goal tonight was just being in the right place at the right time, and it took a near empty net for him to grab the goal. Someone with his talent is significantly underachieving.

What a great win tonight, but this effort will not get the Panthers two points in Raleigh. In the battle for eighth place, the Panthers are going to need a complete 60 minute effort. Here's hoping we get it.

Instead of just chasing down Buffalo for 7th, it's nice to see us with the Rangers and Canadiens in our view all of a sudden as well. Battling for four spots is a lot safer than battling for two.

With just about every team around the Cats playing tomorrow, I will try to get another post in soon. We need a lot of help on the out of town scoreboard, but most importantly, we just need to keep finding ways to win.

Panthers playoff chances: 69% (Trending Up)

Playoffs or bust.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

A Model Franchise

Last night, one of my most frustrating thoughts was why couldn't number one seeds take care of their business? Well, today, a number two seed breathed just a little bit more life into the Florida Panthers playoff chase.

The Detroit Red Wings, one of the model franchises of all sports, shutout the vaunted Pittsburgh Penguins offense, and did it classy the whole way. I usually hate teams that win all the time. Something about it frustrates me and rubs me the wrong way. Yet I can never find it in me to hate the Red Wings. So here's a big thank you to Hockey Town from Panthersland!

But, of course the focus here is on the Panthers. Just how much more life did Detroit give us today? According to Sports Club Stats, which is a site that gives every team's playoff chances updated daily, Pittsburgh's loss gives the Cats an extra 1.4% shot at the postseason. Florida dropped 8% with last night's loss coupled with other team's victories and overtime losses. So, today we have gone from 60.5% to 61.9%. Things look just a little better than they did last night. If Atlanta can somehow beat Philly toda...hahah nevermind. Sorry folks.

Here's to a Devils regulation victory over the Rangers tomorrow!

Panthers current playoff chance: 61.9% (Trending up)

Playoffs or bust.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Cats Drop A Toughie

A quick intro -- My name is Andrew Imber, and I have been a Panthers fan since their creation. I lost my way for a couple of years early in the decade, but that is a story for another day. I am a half-season ticket owner, and live and die with the Cats. The result from the previous game dictates my mood until the next one.

So tonight, the Panthers basically lost sight of the Southeast Division for good, with a tough 3-1 loss to the Capitals. I didn't quite realize how good that team was. Florida did a great job matching their intensity, but could not capitalize (no pun intended) on extended one man and two man advantages late in the game. The officiating was horrendous for most of the game, and Washington scored the game winner as a direct result of that horrible officiating. Not only was the Panthers penalty a shady call, but also the officials missed two blatant calls against Washington before the goal was scored. Don't get me wrong, Florida blew it themselves as well. But you can't help but feel like Florida got shafted for much of this one by the zebras.

My current thoughts:

This officiating bias needs to end. Florida now has one powerplay attempt in the first two periods of the last three games. That's one powerplay in six periods. All their powerplays are coming in the third period, an obvious sign of make up calls.

Speaking of powerplays, Florida needs to take advantage of them when they actually get them. If Florida is able to score on a two man advantage, we're probably talking about a win tonight. Florida could have scored on the two man advantage, and either scored again on the powerplay or brought the game all the way to overtime.

Don't you just want to punch Mike Green? And not in the, he's a punk way, but in the stop killing our team way?

If Florida does sneak into the playoffs, Washington is not a team I'd want to face. They play too much like us, with more skill on the front end. We have much more talent on the backend and in goal, but that won't always get the job done. We really lack a true scorer, and that has to be addressed in the offseason. I honestly think I'd rather play Boston.

Florida's game against the Leafs this Tuesday is a must-win. It's the last game on the schedule for the month of February you can look at and honestly say the Cats SHOULD win. Every other game is either a toss-up or a difficult matchup.

Is there anything more frustrating than watching a number one seed blow a game against a team we need to lose? First San Jose loses to Carolina on Thursday, and now Boston loses to Philadelphia today. Both of those games were at the home of the number one seeds. Do your job guys!

Isn't it nice to see teams like the Rangers and Canadiens finally coming into our field of vision? Tonight's loss really hurt our endeavor of catching them, but they really aren't that far away.

We're once again seeing how hard it is to dig out of an early season hole. We have been one of the best teams in the entire league, and tonight we sit on the outside looking in at the playoff picture again. We start off the season at .500, and we're talking about winning the division right now.

That's it for my opening blog. Check out my boy Marc's blog at Check back in after every Cats game, and I'll try to post my thoughts.

Playoffs or bust.