As I said in the title, there is no need to sound the alarm and freak out. The losses against Tampa and Boston were what I call a “necessary loss”.
First of all, the Cats were on a 13-game winning streak and all good things must come to an end. Do you think they could have had a 33-game win streak and not lost again until they hoisted the Cup (4 to win out the regular season and 16 to win the Cup)? They were bound to lose sooner or later and I would rather it be out of their system before playoffs than in playoffs.
Let’s be honest, the Tampa game was flat-out ugly, but it was the definition of a trap game.
Tampa at the time was battling with Toronto for who gets home ice advantage in their series as well as trying to keep ahead of Boston and out of the Wild Card position.
Currently Tampa sits at 108 points and Boston at 105 while both teams have 2 games left.
Why does this matter? Because both Tampa and Boston would rather matchup against Toronto in the first round of playoffs than the Hurricanes. Toronto is going to be a much easier opponent than Carolina will be in mine and many other analysts’ opinions.
This game meant way more for the Lightning than it did for the Panthers, who had already clinched the Atlantic Division and home ice advantage throughout the ECF with their win Thursday night.
Additionally, the Tampa Bay game was the Cats 3rd game in 4 nights so the guys were exhausted. How many times do I have to tell you, sooner or later a team will lay an egg? We are simply not used to it because the Cats have been red hot all season.
Do I wish they kept it a bit more competitive? Hell yes! The 2nd half of the game was just ugly and it was certainly terrible listening to the Lightning fans in attendance.
So, let’s look at all the factors that contributed to the loss:
- A game that didn’t mean as much to the Panthers as it did to Tampa
- It was the Panthers 3rd game in 4 nights
- The night before they pulled out a 3-2 comeback OT win against a very good Toronto team
- Tampa wanted a bit of revenge from the 9-3 beating earlier in the season
This is the definition of a trap game and one where you can expect a team to lay an egg.
Did it suck? Yes!
Does it define their season or really matter in the long run? No! It was just one bad game.
Now let’s move on to last night’s loss against the Bruins.
The Cats played competitive, but it was another game where the Panthers did not need the 2 points as desperately as the Bruins do.
Not only are the Bruins trying to jump Tampa, but they are trying to stay ahead of the Capitals (and/or potentially Penguins) so they do not have to face the Panthers in the first round of the playoffs. So, Boston was out there playing for the win whereas the Cats should have almost let the Bruins win.
Yes, I know teams do not “let” other teams win at this level, but if you were the Cats, who would you rather face, the Bruins or the Capitals?
You could also tell that Brunette was resting the top dogs like Barkov and Huberdeau while giving more time to the depth guys.
For example, through the halfway point of the game, Barky only had just over 9 minutes of ice time where he would normally be sitting at the 12–15-minute marker. Yes, while it might not sound like a lot, any hockey player can tell you that 3-5 minutes of ice is a lot!
Barkov finished the game with 17:45 TOI and Huberdeau with 18:19. A normal game and these guys are well over the 22–25-minute stat. And the 22+ minutes per game is what we can expect to see starting next week.
You know the Panthers were playing their depth guys when you see the Time On Ice stat for the following:
- Jumbo Joe Thornton – 10:38
- Acciari – 14:24
- Verhaghe – 18:22
- Bennett – 18:09
I would say Jumbo has not seen that much ice time since he left San Jose.
What is the point I am trying to make?
That the Panthers know the importance of resting up the key pieces heading in to the playoff run and would rather save Barky, Huby, and their top players for the playoffs versus risking them for injury at the end of the season.
Do I like seeing the Panthers lose? Hell to the NO!
But, do I understand them as somebody who has played the game at a high level? Unfortunately, I do.
Both of these losses hurt as a fan, but they were necessary and almost expected losses. We needed to snap the streak and get back to an equilibrium leading in to the playoffs.
The good news is that we have two matchups against bottom tier teams in the league, Ottawa and Montreal, which will allow the boys to get a good shot at a W and get some positive momentum heading in to the playoffs.
So, as I said to open this article, relax Panthers fans, these losses were needed!
As always, in Zito we trust!