Type to search

  • Panthers no longer pussycats

    Daily News

    Panthers no longer pussycats

    Bob Snow March 7, 2016

    SUNRISE, FLA — It’s been 20 years since the rats littered the ice; and just one postseason appearance over the last 10 years. Last year, they were in the playoff hunt until the final week of the regular season.

    In 1996, the Florida Panthers went to the Cup Final, bowing to Colorado in their magical run that began the custom of tossing plastic rats onto the BB&T Center ice when key goals or wins were recorded.

    For most of the past 10 years, the franchise has been among the doormats in the Eastern Conference. Until Dale Tallon took over as GM in 2010 after helping to build the Chicago Blackhawks into perennial Cup winners.

    The rats are back; the ‘Cats are legit.

    Tallon has succeeded in the NHL model of drafting young talent and signing veterans to keep the necessary balance to compete on the ice – and within the salary cap.

    Those veterans include 44-year-old Jaromir Jagr, who recently tied Gordie Howe’s 1850 points for third place all-time behind Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier. He leads the team in scoring with 48 points. Add Jussi Jokenen’s 46 and Reilly Smith’s 39 and that leadership trio has benefitted the offense. The kids up front include top draft picks Jonathan Huberdeau, Aleksander Barkov and Nick Bjugsdat.

    The defense is led by captain Brian Campbell and last year’s Calder Trophy winner Aaron Ekblad.

    Tallon brought goaltender Roberto Luongo back to south Florida in 2014 to stabilize the goaltending for a return to the playoffs and deep spring runs.

    Two weeks ago before the trade deadline, veterans Teddy Purcell, Jiri Hudler and Jakob Kindl hopped on board to shore up the experience factor.

    It has all paid off. Tallon and head coach Gerard Gallant were given early Christmas presents with contract extensions in December while the Panthers were setting franchise records for most consecutive home wins and victories in one month.

    At 36-21-8 into Monday night’s showdown with the Bruins, Florida has 25 wins over the last three months. But with several upper-body (aka concussion issues), the ‘Cats have dropped four of their last five, slipping to second place behind cross-state rival Tampa and just one point ahead of the surging Bruins. It all creates a logjam among the three tighter than some of the swimwear 10 miles away on Ft. Lauderdale beach.

    Monday’s game becomes the biggest of the season thus far with three at home this week followed by six of the next seven on the road. Barring a total collapse, the Florida Panthers will be playing in mid-April.

    Shawn Thornton is well aware of the importance of Monday’s game.

    “There’s a lot on the line; a good test for us,” the affable ex-Bruin said after the morning skate. “A possible playoff matchup. The streak we had benefitted us; gave us a cushion. We’ve missed five or six guys the past few months.

    “I think we can play against anybody.”

    Ironically, last March and this March are the crossroads with which to gauge the franchise’s progress.

    “Last year, we were sort of a surprise,” Gallant said Monday morning. “We knew we had to pass a few teams to make it. This year we’re in a good spot right now. This is a different team.

    “It’s either second place or third place, so it’s a big one. It should be a great game.”

    “What a great job they’ve done,” Claude Julien said about Florida after putting his team through Mondays’ practice. “They’ve become a competitive team with good balance everywhere. Lou [Luongo] in net has given them stability. The rest of the team highly skilled. They’re headed in the right direction. It’s an exciting game for both teams.”

    Drop the puck.

    Facebook Comments

    You Might also Like

    Leave a Comment