Monday, April 06, 2009

Panthers keep their eye on eighth place

The Florida Panthers haven't had a post season to worry about since the 1999-2000 season, but if the stars align right and the New York Ranges should stumble once more, then South Florida may yet get to remember what hockey is like in mid April, May and maybe even June.

The Panthers clawed their way into an eighth place tie with the idle New York Rangers on Sunday, in a heated match up with the Pittsburgh Penguins. A game which featured much of the drama of a playoff game, combined with enough of the hard hits and occasional fisticuffs that would make Don Cherry sit up and take notice.

The Panthers came out on top on the scoreboard with 4-2 victory, definitely getting under the skin of the Penguins and Sidney Crosby in particular, for the second time this year, Crosby who rarely drops the gloves found himself taking on a Panther. Sunday's main even featured Crosby and Keith Ballard going toe to toe (well sort of) after Ballard levelled Evgeni Malkin with crushing but legal body check along the Florida blue line.

Crosby feeling that someone should stand up for Malkin, took Ballard into his own hands and while he seemed to take the brunt of the punches and was assessed the extra two minutes for unsportsmanlike conduct, it was an indication that as the playoffs near, everyone it seems moves their game up a notch or two.

The Panthers seemed energized by the check and the fight as well, going on to change the momentum of the game and taking charge of it, pushing their team closer to a playoff berth. With the victory the Panthers have 89 points, the same amount as the Rangers but New York holds the edge with one more victory over their 79 games so far.

With three games remaining on the season, the Rangers would seem to have the tougher schedule with a game against Montreal (Tuesday) and two with the Flyers (Thursday and Saturday) to close out the season.

The Panthers play the Flyers on Tuesday, the Thrashers on Thursday and the Capitals on Saturday.

To grab that eighth and final spot and a return to the playoffs, the Panthers will need to dig deep again and find some more of that desperation hockey that they showcased on Sunday with Pittsburgh, making for a fairly exciting three game run and what amounts to sudden death elimination hockey to come for fans in South Florida.

Photo above from Miami Herald website

No comments: