When the Florida Panthers left the ice Saturday night, they were in good spirits. The Cats skated to an important, solid 5-3 win over the St. Louis Blues. After the game, Florida was alone in 5th place in the east.
Turn the page to Sunday, and things start to head downhill. There were three games in action that held the Panthers’ interest. The New York Rangers hosted the Boston Bruins, the Pittsburgh Penguins played in Washington D.C., and the Montreal Canadians visited Dallas. Go figure, all three teams chasing Florida won. So following Sunday’s action, Florida found themselves back into a 3-way tie for 6th, sitting with the Rangers and Penguins with 76 points. And with Carolina’s win Monday night, the ‘Canes have jumped the pack and are now tied with Montreal in 5th.
You might think that would be the reason for today’s headline. But no, it gets better. During Florida’s game against the Blues, Brian McCabe took a puck to the face. McCabe was bloodied and left the ice, but returned only minutes later and played the rest of the game. We now find out that McCabe broke an orbital bone in his right eye and underwent surgery today. That hurts, and yet the bad news continues. Nathan Horton, in the same game, had his left ring finger stepped on. He also visited the surgeon.
Timing is everything, right. This, however, is not good timing. Florida’s next two games; Tuesday @ Pittsburgh (tied with Florida in 6th) and Thursday @ Buffalo (3 points behind Florida in 9th). McCabe will miss at least those two contests, and Horton could be out for the rest of the regular season. You would hope, at this time of the year, Horton will tape his finger and get back on the ice as soon as he can, but only time can heal this wound. There is no hiding the fact that this is a terrible, horrible time to lose a key player, let alone two. Horton has picked his play up lately, adding a goal in the win over St. Louis. Brian McCabe captains the power play, and has 7 points in his last 5 games. Losing these two now cannot be good.
But Panther fans, I urge you to resist the panic feeling that must be swelling. Injuries to important players is nothing new to this team. Back in mid-December, Florida went without up to five forwards for an extended period of time, including a 4-game road trip. The Panthers went 3-1-0 on said trip. All that the injuries did was force other players to step their game up. Now is no different. Newly acquired defenseman Steve Eminger will be asked to play an increased role. Third and fourth liners will be asked to start producing, most notably Stephen Weiss, Brett McLean, Ville Peltonen, and Kamil Kreps. Will they? Can they? Why not. For a team that has not seen post-season ice time since 2000, karma has to be on their side. The schedule, too, lends itself to the Panthers. 11 of their final 16 games are against teams tied or below them in the standings. 9 of the 16 remaining games are at home. The Cats have games in hand against all teams concerned, except for Buffalo. But none of that may matter if they are not able to put out a solid effort in the two upcoming games. Florida could certainly use some big wins against the teams they are fighting for playoff spots. Hopefully, the injury bug will find another locker room to land in.