They did it...they did it!
In their final meeting with the Carolina Hurricanes, the Panthers were on the receiving end of a 4-3 win in OT.
While they didn't exactly make a statement in terms of a commanding, blowout win, the Cats tapped into an old energy to claim the victory.
What's the "old energy" you speak of?
It's that third period surge and desperation we got used to the past couple seasons. It was easy to forget about those days of late-game desperation (often too late) because we have seen a much stronger Panthers team this year that hasn't relied on that move too often - though there has been times it would have been nice to see them do it.
I assumed the game was over with the Canes leading 3-1 in the third, but the Cats flipped the script and did some things to the Canes that teams typically do to Florida:
1. Producing from the Backend
MacKenzie Weegar had a monster night. He tied the game late in the first and then assisted on all three remaining Panthers' goals.
The guy has done nothing but grow each season and this year he has become the guy I think a lot of us thought he would be - maybe even better. He's stepped things way up after Ekblad went down and is now in the (dare I say) top defenseman conversation. He currently sits at a career-high 29 points (4G, 25A), but more importantly (at least in my mind) is he is defensively responsible and has been a great defender.
On top of his goal and three apples Saturday night, Weegs also had seven hits, seven blocked shots and four takeaways...give this man a post-game beer!
Q: "He did a lot of good things, whether he was up in the play, making the right plays, scoring goals, at the net, defending well, going into the puck areas. I think he's had a very strong year."
Weegar wasn't the only one having a good night manning the blue line. It appears some of that #52 magic has rubbed off on Forsling.
Forsling continues to be a great compliment to Weegar since Ekblad's injury. He does a good job of picking his spots and knowing when to pinch in and get involved offensively. A great example of that was in the third period of Saturday's game when he recognized a soft spot in the offensive zone and buried a nice pass to make it a one-goal game and start the Cats' surge. No doubt about it that this goal was the catalyst to the comeback.
2. Crashing the Net
Florida is often guilty of doing the flyby when it comes to getting pucks to the net. Not many guys drive to the goal mouth and throw on the brakes to cause havoc out front. That's why the signing of Hornqvist was so clutch.
But things were a little different in the third period Saturday night. That 20 minutes saw Florida bodies crashing the net, putting Cane's defensemen on their heels and making things uncomfortable for Nedeljkovic.
Let's keep this trend going moving forward.
One of the direct benefits of the above note is that the pressure of crashing the net can lead to nice rewards, as in the case of Wennberg's short-handed goal.
Now, the Panthers are no strangers to short-handed opportunities and goals. Only, those two things are usually happening to them. It was nice seeing Florida turn the table on a team and get themselves a shorty.
Actually, breaking this play down, we not only see Weegar drive to the net, but Wennberg does a good example of throwing on the brakes (also mentioned above) and staying with the play and putting himself in a good spot to get that rebound and rewarded for it.
I really think the win against Carolina is huge for the team. The obvious is that they got the monkey off their backs, but the less obvious is the timing of it.
Beating their conference nemesis (bully) on Saturday in the last game the two teams meet should be a massive boost for this Florida squad heading into the end of the regular season and gearing up for the playoffs.
The Panthers have seven games left:
I think four of these games. If they can harness the confidence from Saturday's win and bring the game we saw in the third period, there's not reason they can't take the rest of the season.
I really believe that, and it starts tonight...
Per CBS Sports
"The Nashville Predators have struggled all season against teams currently ahead of them in the Central Division standings ... particularly, the Florida Panthers.
They hope to change that Monday night in Nashville when they will try to avoid a fifth consecutive home loss to the Panthers in the first of back-to-back meetings.
Nashville (26-21-2, 54 points) holds the fourth and final playoff spot in the Central after going 2-0-1 during three straight games with sixth-place Chicago. The Predators own a five-point lead over the Blackhawks, but just two on fifth-place Dallas, which holds two games in hand.
Now, the Predators host second-place Florida (31-13-5, 67 points), a team Nashville is 2-4 against this season.
Considering that the Predators end the regular season with a pair of games with division-leading Carolina -- against whom they are just 0-5-1 this season -- Nashville's playoff hopes figure to rest with their remaining efforts against the best the Central has to offer.
In between those two series, there is a home date with Dallas and two at last-place Columbus.
"We don't have a lot of time left, and we're doing a bit of standings watching, but we know we've got to take care of business in our end," defenseman Ryan Ellis said.
"The last few games (against Chicago), we've been dialed, we've been playing better hockey, more consistently, and hopefully, we can continue with our success."
The Predators will aim for what would be a season-high fourth consecutive victory at home, where they have won seven of the last nine. They last beat Florida in Nashville on Jan. 20, 2018. The Panthers have outscored the Predators 11-6 while taking the previous two 2020-21 meetings at Nashville."
This season's history against the Preds, combined with their recent confidence boost this past weekend, bodes well for Florida. but they would be wise to be cognizant of Nashville's surge the past month or so. Once a team at the bottom of the Central and presumed sellers at the deadline, they turned things around and now secure the last spot in the Central for the playoffs.
Keep an eye on Nashville's defensemen - who are relied on a lot to contribute offensively - and if Saros is in net, it doesn't matter about quantity of shots, get quality ones on this guy and score early and often. He's a major reason for their turnaround.
With that in mind, how about setting the tone early and blending that desperate energy into the a 60-minute game plan from here on out?
Catfish is on the menu tonight, fellas - Go Panthers!