It was the moment that Florida fans had been waiting for.
From the first minute of the contest, the Panthers’ players stepped out on the ice in St. Louis and looked doggedly determined to win. And they went on to play their hearts out.
Finally! The Cats found their stride and showed some much improved play against the Blues.
Ultimately, the Floridian visitors blanked the home side and scored four at the other end to collect two more vital points.
Like the previous game in Dallas, it was the second line of Stillman, Reinprecht, and Horton which impressed the most and got important points on the board.
Cory Stillman got his first goal of the season and added an assist; Nathan Horton also added two tremendously taken assists to the equation.
The big story for Florida was, however, the solid play of the defense. And not just the defenders—the forwards were also all responsible in their zone and backchecked admirably.
Anything that slipped through was pounced upon by Tomas Vokoun between the pipes.
Tomas has not had the best of starts to the campaign, but thenagain, he hasn’t been supported adequately by the guys in front of him in previous matches.
The St. Louis game showed how good Vokoun can be if only given the right kind of support from his defenders. He looked sharp and was rewarded with a fine shutout to seal the game safe from any potential comeback of the Blues.
This was, by far, the most complete performance of the season from the Cats.
Not only did they play the entire 60 minutes, but everyone did their jobs flawlessly and helped each other out when necessary.
I’m sure head coach Peter DeBoer will have said, “Now that’s the way to play” to his charges after the match.
And sure enough, that’s how we were expecting the Panthers to be playing this year—and hopefully this will mean that the players are finally starting to settle into their respective roles.
Florida does not have the most talented roster out there and thus must play as a collective unit and outwork its opponents just as they did Saturday in St. Louis.
Worth noting is that the Panthers’ last season started equally bad before turning the corner on a western road trip.
The similarities don’t stop there. Like the '09-'10 campaign, the Cats suffered key injuries prior to the trip west last season and were forced to bring players up from the AHL.
Those minor league players brought with them bundles of energy and work ethic that seemed to rub off on the regulars, sparking some much-needed grit and resolve to win.
It was the same storyline this time around. Hopefully these resemblances will also mean that the club has now finally come together and found that inner fortitude to succeed as a team.
With a bit of luck, the same bitter ending won’t need to be experienced this time around.
One of the players that stepped up from the AHL to help Florida win in St. Louis was right winger Victor Oreskovich.
Having quit the game back in 2007, he made a comeback this summer and impressed at the Panthers’ preseason camp. He was eventually signed to a contract and then assigned to Rochester in the AHL.
Having played at Dallas the previous day, coach DeBoer felt he needed a rested body for the game against the Blues and called up Oreskovich. Victor impressed with plentiful energy and big checks in his NHL debut.
The 23-year-old, 6' 2", 225-pounder made his impact felt and was rewarded with premium ice time from his former Junior coach.
Whilst three players were reassigned to Rochester after the St. Louis game—Jeff Taffe, Keaton Ellerby, and Michal Repik—Oreskovich will stay with the Panthers for the time being.
Victor and Kenndal McArdle are the players to remain with the parent team in place of the injured wingers David Booth and Radek Dvorak. So far, both have wooed the coaches and fans with their uncompromising style of play—giving the Cats a much needed shot in the arm with an abundance of energy.
Hopefully the Panthers will now return to south Florida with their confidence restored as we head into a week of divisional clashes.
First up are the Hurricanes on Wednesday at the Bank Atlantic Center. The 'Canes have now lost nine straight games. The Capitals then serve up tough head-to-head confrontations on Friday and Saturday.
If the Cats hope to continue and climb the standings, they must win a couple of these fixtures. Obviously this won’t be easy, but when a team is on the roll, it can be mighty hard to stop.
Hopefully the Panthers can continue to gain further momentum this week. The western trip gave us back some hope and confidence, now all we need is consistency!