Fighting to Win

It wasn’t pretty by any stretch of the imagination, but it was a win nonetheless, and at this point of the season you won’t hear any of the Florida Panthers complain about their 4-1 win over the Carolina Hurricanes. A win which propelled them to within four points of the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

Florida hadn’t won back-to-back games since late January, and Tomas Vokoun credited the newfound winning ways to a team that has been more relaxed and aggressive in the past couple of games.

When asked whether he agreed with his goalie’s statement, Panthers head coach Pete DeBoer said that he thinks that “there is a natural reaction after the trade deadline that loosens the guys up a little bit, because nobody expects [the Panthers] to win much now.”

The Panthers were definitely loose during the first period, when they took a decisive 2-0 lead playing aggressive hockey and pushing the issue instead of just waiting for things to happen. DeBoer called it the best first period the Panthers have had this year, and the 40-year-old coach credited the team’s new penchant for fighting as the catalyst for it.

It kind of goes like this: The Panthers pick a fight early in the game, in this case one minute and 15 seconds after the game started between Florida’s Nick Tarnasky and Carolina’s Jay Harrison. Regardless of how the fight turns out, the Panthers seem to get really pumped up about it and proceed to roll over their opponent.

To further prove this trend, Florida scored its second goal a mere 30 seconds after the second fight of the opening period when Kamil Kreps was served the puck on a platter by an alert Nick Tarnasky who saw Kreps coming from behind to score.  

Granted, two games are a small sample size to draw conclusions from, especially when it comes to a team that turns inconsistency into an art form, but the Cats will take whatever works for them in their playoff push.

Florida’s aggressiveness also had its bad side, resulting in eight penalties in the first two periods and nine for the game, but a solid Panthers defense and the always dependable Vokoun took care of the lead as the Hurricanes had possession of the puck throughout most of the final two periods but could think of little to nothing to do with it as it struggled offensively.  

When Hurricanes forward Jussi Jokinen cut the lead in half lobbing the puck over Vokoun’s head after a short rebound, forwards Cory Stillman and Kreps told the crowd “No worries, we got this” and put the exclamation point on the night as they each scored one goal in the last five minutes of the game to put things away.

The empty-net goal with one minute left meant Kreps had scored one more goal in a single night than he had in the previous 57.

Byron Bitz also made his team debut on Saturday night after being traded from the Boston Bruins in a package deal for defenseman Dennis Seidenberg. The 26-year-old forward spent 12 minutes on the ice and almost scored four minutes into the game when he had two point blank shots that were deflected by Carolina’s goaltender Justin Peters.

The Panthers now head out for a three-game road trip that could very well define their season. The swing will start against the Minnesota Wild on Tuesday, and it will end on Sat., March 13 with a visit to the formidable, Western Conference co-leaders San Jose Sharks.  

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