NHL scores 2014: Panthers end Maple Leafs’ streak, Blues and Kings bruise each other
Florida’s surge up the standings continued on Thursday.
Don’t look now, but the Florida Panthers are now squarely in the playoffs conversation.
Yes, we’re still half of a season away from the NHL postseason. But the fact Florida is sniffing around the edges of the cutoff line at this point in the year is an impressive feat. After another shootout win on Thursday, the Panthers sit in seventh place in the Eastern Conference.
Many fans might find that surprising. But was their ascendance that hard to predict? This is a team with young studs like Jonathan Huberdeau, Nick Bjugstad and Alexander Barkov up front. They have Erik Gudbranson, Dmitry Kulikov and Aaron Ekblad on the blue line. And with Roberto Luongo in net they finally have a goalie who can steal games when the youngsters inevitably make mistakes.
With that much young potential, it was only a matter of time for the Panthers to turn things around. Their ultimate undoing this year will be their division; Pittsburgh, Montreal and Detroit are already ahead of them and Boston is bound to turn things around before the end of winter. But as long as they keep knocking out wins like they did to Philadelphia on Thursday, the Panthers should be in the conversation by season’s end.
All the NHL Scores
Panthers 2, Flyers 1 (SO)
Three things we learned
1. The Panthers are turning into shootout specialists. Florida won another game in a shootout just two days after setting the NHL record for the longest shootout in history. That’s 26 rounds of shootout hockey in two games and four full points for a team quietly climbing the rankings in the Eastern Conference. You can see the confidence starting to build in this young group, and it’s starting to show in these tight games. They’re learning how to close out games and getting some stellar goaltending from Roberto Luongo.
2. There’s no love lost between the Blues and Kings. If the Hockey Gods are good, they will grant us a playoff matchup between these two clubs. From the very start, the Blues and Kings were trying to knock each other into next week with some of the most physical and angry hockey we’ve seen in awhile. The result was the kind of grinding, grueling game you’d expect from St. Louis and Los Angeles. Hopefully we get to see a long series of that hockey.
3. Toronto’s big streak came to an end…against Carolina? As improbable as Toronto’s 9-1-1 streak the last few weeks was, it was hard to believe it would suddenly halt in Raleigh. The Hurricanes have been the model of injury-plagued, inconsistent hockey this season and cooling off the Leafs seemed unlikely. But thanks to a brilliant performance from Cam Ward in net, the Hurricanes managed to do just that.
Stat of the Night
The Flyers are now 0-5 in shootouts this year, dangerously close to approaching 2013-14 New Jersey Devils territory of shootout ineptitude. It could cost them come April.
Steve Mason: That’s 5 shootouts we’ve lost this year … that’s 5 points that could have put us in the playoffs; there’s your difference.”
— Adam Kimelman (@NHLAdamK) December 19, 2014