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Panthers - Devils Game 7: What to Expect
Wednesday, 25 April 2012 09:54

I must (well, I am eager to) admit: I have been negative on the Panthers for a few years and I was negative about their playoff hopes going into this season and even during the season as the team was clinging to a playoff spot and even led their division. They managed to prove me wrong - or did they?

Florida is arguably in a position to silence its most ardent critics. Their NHL playoffs performance so far exceeded everyone's expectations and has seemingly proved the naysayers wrong. The Panthers led this series twice and had New Jersey on the verge of elimination, in their own building, in a game that came down to a single sudden-death shot. A shot that could have been the Panthers'. Except it wasn't.



There was something in the 65 or so minutes of this Game 6 that mimics the Panthers' performance throughout the whole regular season, perhaps the whole "playoff-less decade": The team was not in it to win. Game 6 was a short version of the regular season finale where the Panthers clinched a playoff spot despite dropping 8 of 9 consecutive games. Game 6 was a pullback. It clearly wasn't an attempt to finish off the opponent, to seal the deal and to show that they were not an also-run.

Coach Dineen's strategy for this game was to slow NJ down, to not let them score and quiet the arena in the process. Is that what you do being in control of the series and having the opponent on the verge of elimination? No, you press ahead. You force them make desparate mistakes. They have more on the line than you. They need to win, and they are expected to win. But somehow, the Panther managed only 16 shots on goal versus New Jersey's 42. And the Devils did not seem to play that much stronger, not only in this game but in the entire series so far.

Let's look at it another way: In this series, Brodeur is New Jersey's weakest link. You had to shoot to force him to make an error. The Panthers didn't. Or yet another way: Going into Game 6, the Panthers had scored seven power play goals on 22 power plays against the best penalty-killing team of the regular season. So, why did Florida choose not to put pressure on the Devils to force them take penalties?

So, WTF what gives? Is Coach Dineen so unqualified as to overlook obvious facts and stats? As one classic said, "when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth". Advancing is simply not a priority for the organization. I wouldn't be surprised if they figured that bringing the Game 7 home is a guaranteed profit versus a huge expense of playing Games 1 and 2 of the next round with uncertain revenue streams. Could that also be why they were so strongly backpedalling at the end of the season to avoid getting into the playoffs altogether?

Well, too bad. Both of Philadelphia's goalies (Bryzgalov and Bobrovsky) seem to be playing even worse than Brodeur. The Flyers are undisciplined and could be easily provoked to take unnecessary penalties. The Panthers could have just as good a chance palying against the Flyers as they have had against the Devils. Too bad we won't see that.


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