Last night the Carolina Hurricanes defeated the Florida Panthers, 3-2, as Ray Whitney fired in the game winner just 1:36 into overtime. The win put the Canes into fifth place in the conference, one point ahead of the idle Pittsburgh Penguins, and the team is now very close to clinching a coveted playoff spot. Florida on the otherhand, remained in ninth place although they did earn a valuable point.
Even with the win, Carolina's one time dominance over their division rival has shifted a bit as the Panthers won this year's season series, 3-2-1. One might think that with the positive change in results, the franchise might consider changing their negative philosophies, but it seems that one thing will never change. The Panthers organization and some of the press covering the team still refer to the Hurricanes as "divers".
More about that in a bit, first let's review the game.
The Panthers jumped out to a 1-0 lead eight minutes and thirty seconds into the contest when Anton Babchuk turned the puck over to Cory Stillman deep in his own zone. Stillman found Jay Bouwmeester all alone and the defenseman made no mistake.
But just about five minutes later, Tuomo Ruutu drew a hooking penalty and followed it up with a goal. The feisty Finn tucked in a rebound off of an Anton Babchuk shot, and the score was tied.
The second period went back and forth, but the Hurricanes were able to put something on the board, late. During a weird line change for both teams, the visitors attacked with a oddman rush, and Patrick Eaves somehow got the puck past Tomas Vokoun. The Florida announcers were complaining about too many men on the ice for Carolina, but apparently the refs disagreed. In any event, it was a bad change for Florida and it cost them the lead. There were just 12.5 seconds left on the clock when the goal was scored.
The Canes seemed to go into defensive mode in the third and stopped attacking as much. The strategy was working until at 14:50, Rod Brind'Amour took a
questionable high-sticking call. Then while the team was shorthanded, Erik Cole got tangled up with a Panther and was called for tripping.
Florida took full advantage of the 5-on-3 situation and Cory Stillman tied things up.
After the game went into overtime, Rod Brind'Amour and Ray Whitney both made valiant efforts to keep the puck in the Florida zone. Whitney almost looked like a man possesed and he was finally rewarded when Joni Pitkanen served him up the puck on a silver platter and "The Wizard" rifled in a blast from the left slot to win the game.
The win was the fourth in a row for the Canes and it gave them a record of 8-1-2 in their last 11 games.
It looked like Jussi Jokinen filled in on the second line, but Rod Brind'Amour finished with more TOI, 19 minutes versus 17 minutes. Both forwards played well and the captain finished with a +2 and had two assists.
Once again Cam Ward was clutch as he had 37 saves on 39 shots. After being named the NHL's first star of the week, he doesn't seem to be slowing down one bit. He started in his 22nd straight contest and has started 38 out of the last 39 games for Carolina.
The game was not the best for the Canes, but once again they found a way to win, this time against a very desperate team. No doubt about it, this group is very confident and red hot, and they are playing more like a united team at this point in time than they have at any stage in the season.
The Florida announcers had no reason to complain about the officiating last night, but did that stop them? The Hurricanes were called for four penalties, the Panthers just one. Even after the one penalty was called against the Panthers, the announcers commented that "Ruutu went down very easily".
The Palm Beach Post included a reference to "Carolina diving" in their game preview yesterday. It seems like you can not read or hear anything coming out of Southern Florida without some mentioning of words "Carolina" and "diving" used in the same sentence.
This all stems from a game in 2007 when the Panthers were called for a couple of penalties in overtime. Eddie Belfour was in goal at the time and was so upset that he made mock diving gestures to the refs, who of course called him for unsportsmanlike conduct.
Florida GM, Jacques Martin, made such a stink about the game afterwards that the league had to get involved. The local press jumped on the bandwagon, and that is all you heard about. Of course the very next time the two teams met in Florida, referee Brad Watson called the Hurricanes for diving twice, after they had not been called for the infraction a single time all season long.
Apparently, the feeling in Florida has not changed over the years. The Canes have a new coach and some different players, but are still known as divers? The Panthers have even won the season series, and they still can't seem to get off the kick.
Do they think that their continued whining will earn them more calls? Do they think they will earn any respect with this continuing campaign?
I mentioned this back at the time and I will say it again, as long as the Florida franchise continues to worry more about what the Hurricanes, (and other teams) are doing, more so than what they are doing, they will not amount to much.
The Hurricanes are known around the league as a fast, skilled bunch who are difficult to keep up with. They lead the league in drawing penalties. But Florida seems to be the only franchise continually whining about diving, even when they win the games and there are not any penalties. Will it ever end?