The Florida Panthers were not supposed to be good this season. Sure, they had a busy offseason and revamped their roster, but most analysts figured they were still another year or so away from being serious threats. Over the past decade, the Panthers have been the NHL’s most dismal franchise; they haven’t made the playoffs since the 1999-2000 season, and they finished in fifth place in the Southeast division each of the last two years. Even if they improved this season, they were only supposed to be mediocre.
Yet the NHL season is now almost a quarter done (19 games in), and the Florida Panthers are looking like true contenders. With tonight’s 3-2 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Panthers improve to 10-6-3 on the season, good for 23 points and first place in the Southeast Division. Based on how the Panthers played tonight, it might be time we started taking them seriously.
It’s still early in the season, and yes, this was merely one game. However, the Panthers just played one heck of a game against the Penguins. They allowed the Penguins to score first, breaking the ice only one minute into the game, but they tied the game up six minutes later and didn’t trail again all game long. Against one of the best teams in the Conference at killing power plays, the Panthers converted two of their four opportunities. They took a total of 31 shots on the ’Pens, and their goalie Joseph Theodore kept them in the game by saving 39 out of 41 shots.
Stephen Weiss scored the winning goal for the Panthers with less than four minutes remaining in the game, punching the puck in the middle of a close range scrum. The Penguins desperately tried to even if up over the final few minutes, dominating the puck for the final minute and getting off multiple close-range shots on goal, but the Panthers’ defense held them scoreless. The Cats may only be an early season mirage, but they looked like the real deal tonight.
The Penguins have now lost two games in a row, and they travel home to Pittsburgh to face the Islanders on Monday. Meanwhile, the Panthers stay at home and will face the New Jersey Devils that night. They will be gunning for their fifth home win of the season and their second win in a row.
To join in the conversation about this game and talk with fellow fans, check out the game coverage and recap on SB Nation’s blog for the Panthers, Litter Box Cats.