The best way to summarize and put into context what the last game of the
season meant to the Florida Panthers is to compare their game on Sunday
afternoon against the Tampa Bay Lightning to the electrifying game between the
New York Rangers that same day.
The Panthers were playing to avoid
finishing dead last not only in the Southeast division, but any division, for
the first time in their history. Unfortunately for them, they had a 1-0 lead
but ended up losing 3-1 to achieve the unwanted milestone.
as bad as the Cats have been in the past decade, they have never finished worse
than second to last since they first came into the NHL.
For you young fans out there,
there even used to be a time when the Panthers finished as high as second in
their division and were, what’s the word I’m looking for here?
It hasn’t been
used in a long time down here in South Florida…Oh, right, playoff contenders.
That is what the Rangers and Flyers were, as they had to wait for the
last shootout shot of the game to decide which one of them would go to the
playoffs. Ironically, it was Olli Jokinen, a former Panther, who missed the
last shot that left his Rangers out of the playoffs.
The lesson for kids everywhere is that the stink of the Panthers and
their playoff incompetence will follow you anywhere you go, no matter how hard
you try to get rid of it. It reminds me of that “Seinfeld” episode when Jerry
can’t get rid of the smell of his car and eventually gets rid of it. Florida
can’t get rid of the Panthers though, since the stink comes back every year.
As for the game itself, it was a microcosm of every game Florida has
played this season.
The Cats came out strong against a Tampa Bay team that
looked as if it had just woken up from a long nap, and forward Rotislav Olesz
took advantage of that two minutes into the first period scoring on a weak shot
that somehow got past Mike Smith’s leg.
However, the Panthers relaxed and the Lightning pounced on them barely
five minutes later, as Alex Tanguay and Vinny LeCavalier scored one goal each
in a two minute span midway through the first period to take a lead they wouldn’t
The Panthers had a lot of chances to tie things up, most notably a shot that
forward Stephen Weiss couldn’t fully control and kind of whiffed on with less
than a minute left in the game.
After everything was said and done and the curtains had closed on the 82nd and final game of the season, Panthers head coach Pete DeBoer lamented his team’s
quick descent from February bliss to April misery and how things went downhill
after they lost six games in a row. DeBoer also said that he feels like there is no question that he is a
better coach this year than he was last year.
However, the real question is whether he is
the right coach for a team that hasn’t made the playoffs in the past nine
seasons and is struggling to stay relevant in the South Florida sports