The Florida Panthers had a chance for their first 4 game winning streak since 2008. They also had a chance to put a 6 point gap between them and 9th place Winnipeg, with 19 games left and 3 games in hand. You never would have known it watching the game. Instead, the Jets showed all the desperation of a team trying to stay in the playoff race, taking advantage of early mistakes in the 1st period and capitalizing on an over-aggressive team in the 3rd.
In between, there was actually some good hockey played by the division leading Panthers. After starting the game being outshot 9-3 and going down 2-0, Florida would play the rest of the first 2 periods with a 21-11 advantage. Ondrej Pavelec was the difference, keeping the Panthers off the board. A 3rd goal for the Jets just over a minute into the 3rd period put the result out of question.
What is most concerning, though, isn’t the result. It was the lack of preparation when you knew what you were going to get. Winnipeg, who was playing at home, coming off a bad loss against Edmonton, and in a virtual must-win situation, simply wanted it more. The first goal came just 4 minutes into the game on an unnecessary turnover. Keaton Ellerby, with no real pressure on him, skating backwards towards his own net, tried to make a needless cross ice pass in his own zone. Evander Kane picked it off, 1-0 to the Jets. Just 2 minutes later, another turnover kept the puck in Florida’s zone, and after Ed Jovanovski went for a big hit in the corner, he tried to get back to the front of the net but ran over Jose Theodore, who had come out aggressively on a long range shot. Rebound. Empty net. 2-0 Winnipeg. 6 minutes into the game. If this team is hoping to win its first playoff game since game 1 of the 1997 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, they have to figure out how to play the first 5 minutes with the same level of intensity as the last 5.
All is not lost, despite the 7-0 scoreboard tonight. Florida still has a 2 point lead in the division, 3 games in hand on 2nd place Winnipeg, and the Cats return home for a quick 2 game weekend stint before heading back out on the road. And despite the blowout against the Jets, Florida is 3-1-1 after 4+ goal losses this season. They’ll try to improve that stat Saturday night against Nashville.