Friday, April 2, 2021

Cardiac Cats Live Up To Their Name

BY SCOTT MORGANROTH 

The Florida Panthers have a lot of things that they should be grateful for Thursday Night at the BB&T Center as they wrapped up their season series with the Detroit Red Wings.

The injury depleted team faced a game visitor as the Red Wings kept them on their heels most of the night.

The three stars selections were exactly how I would have chosen them: 1. Alex Wennberg 2. Chris Driedger and 3. Detroit Goaltender Thomas Greiss.

Wennberg scored the game winning goal in overtime to give the Panthers a hard earned 3-2 triumph. 

The Panthers pressure during the three on three was so relentless that the Red Wings were unable to clear the zone and get the puck out of their own territory. 

Wennberg’s goal was his eighth of the campaign.

If you were looking for an entertaining hockey game, then this was it. 

There were fights, roughing penalties and excellent goaltending.

Red Wings left-wing Givani Smith was involved in two separate fights. 

One was in the first period against fellow left-wing Ryan Lombard while the other occurred at the 49 second mark of the third against defenseman Riley Stillman. 

Smith was also assessed with a roughing penalty at the 16:06 mark in the second period.

Driedger stopped 25 of the 27 shots he faced and improved his record to 10-4-2 and was very steady all evening. 

Greiss was equally as impressive stopping 33 of the 36 shots fired in his direction. 

The tough luck goaltender saw his record drop to 2-14-5. 

Greiss played well for the second consecutive game after coming in during the first period of Tuesday’s game with the Red Wings trailing 3-0. Detroit lost the game 4-1 and if it wasn’t for his performance the score would have been much worse.

But as it has all year, mistakes were costly for the Red Wings as they let the Panthers come from behind in this game. 

In the third period, defenseman Jon Merrill was sent to the penalty box committing a slashing penalty at the 8:26 mark. Detroit successfully killed off the penalty. 

But when Merrill got out of the penalty box, he flipped the puck out of play and the Detroit was called for delay of game at the 10:33 mark.

This is when Detroit’s fortunes turned for the worse as Florida got another power play and as the announcer called it over the PA System, Frank Vatrano cashed in at the 10:39 mark. It took six seconds to tie the game at 2-2. You could feel the momentum of the game swinging in Florida’s favor.

But to the Panthers credit, there are games during the course of the season where you’re going to win ugly. This was one of those by taking a 2-1 deficit and turning it into a 3-2 win. 

Florida outshot Detroit 36-27 and out-hit the Red Wings 32-21. They also killed off both of Detroit’s power plays.

During their last road trip that had stops in Tampa Bay, Chicago and Dallas, the Panthers lost three-games in a row. They went to Texas and won two straight then added two more and now have a four-game winning streak.

The word that stands out to during this stretch is RESILIENCE because that’s what they’ve been.

Wennberg’s goal represented Florida’s sixth overtime game-winner of the season, tied for the most among NHL teams. The Cats have won each of their past three games that have required overtime.

The Panthers completed their season series with the Red Wings by winning it 6-2 but Detroit gave them their money’s worth all year and Coach Joel Quenneville gave credit where it was due.

“They played hard, played well and they’re a better team than what we saw earlier in the year. We had to work hard for everything we got tonight. They always play us tough games and they get points against us. It was a hard game, they played physical and had big hits.”

The coach likes the character of his squad and said, “it’s been a very important stretch here for us. I like how we competed in the games, we’re sticking with it. Games have been close for the most part. Tonight, coming back in the third period, it was a hard game.”

Wennberg knows what’s at stake for his team.

“Every game we have is really important. You’ve got to keep the same mindset for every team you play against. Detroit is a really good team, they showed they have a lot of speed. For us we have to stay focused. We have a strong (team) character that it doesn’t matter who we’re playing against or what the score is, you just keep going and we got rewarded. That’s four really good games from us, and there’s no stopping us right now.”

One of the biggest things going for the Panthers is they have two excellent goaltenders! 

Driedger, who will become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season has a 2.18 goals-against average and a .927 save percentage in 16 games.

He’s one of the main reasons that the Panthers are 24-9-4 and are tied with the Tampa Bay Lightning for first in the eight team Central Division with 52 points.

Driedger is well aware of what he means to this team.

“These are big wins for us, we have a lot of key pieces out and I think it says a lot about our team, that we’re a hard working group and nothing gets us down.

“We have a good dynamic here. The schedule is extremely packed, it’s nice to be able to take some pressure off of Bob (goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky) and we have a good 1-2 punch here.”

Talk about a packed schedule, the Panthers will be busy over this Easter Weekend. They face the Columbus Blue Jackets Saturday at 7 pm then have a quick turnaround at 5 pm on Sunday.

There is good news on the injury front. 

Following Thursday’s morning skate, Quenneville mentioned that both Aleksander Barkov and Patric Hornqvist, who have a combined 25 goals this season could both potentially be back in the lineup this weekend against Columbus.

Scott Morganroth can be reached at southfloridatribune@gmail.com. 

You can follow him on Twitter @TribuneSouth and subscribe to The South Florida Tribune You Tube Channel for free to get his broadcasts.

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