Oh, Canada...We are north of the border for the final road trip of the season. The Panthers play here in Toronto tomorrow night and in Ottawa Thursday. Two wins would clinch the first winning season in 6 years. With four games to go, if Florida goes two-and-two they will finish above .500. Impressive when you consider they were nine games under .500 in December. The Cats have shown they will not give in even though there will be no playoff spot for them. Sunday was another home win, 6-3 over Tampa Bay. Florida score a season high five goals in the third period with Juraj Kolnik getting the game winner with 5:05 to go in the game. Kolnik and captain Olli Jokinen each scored twice and had an assist. Jokinen needs one more goal to set set a career high as he now has 36. Jamie McLennan got a rare start and saved 29 of 32 Lightning shots. It was great to see the Panthers' intensity in beating Tampa for the sixth time in eight games this season. In Toronto they will try to get win #1 vs. the Leafs. It won't be easy.
TORONTO SAYS THANKS...Because of the Cats win over Tampa, Toronto is still alive in the playoff race. It's still a longshot for Toronto but that's better than no shot. That said, the Maple Leafs will come out strong and the Panthers must match their desire. Florida has always struggled at the Air Canada Centre and will need a huge effort to succeed here tonight.
ACT LIKE ROADIES...Part of the reason the Panthers will be home for the playoffs is their struggles on the road this season. Florida has been dominant at home but has had a brutal time of it, especially against better teams, away from the BankAtlantic Center. Tonight and Thursday gives the team a chance to end the season on an upswing on the road and it's good to have that going into the off-season. The Cats' brass will analyze everything the team does on the road to try and improve that record next season. Along with getting better on special teams, winning on the road is something that needs to happen in 06-07.
BOUW KNOWS...Panthers defenseman Jay Bouwmeester is one of the team's most improved players from the start of the season until now. He has gotten better defensively and his offensive skills are evident. With an assist in Sunday's win over Tampa, he is up to 40 helpers on the season. Only Robert Svehla's 49 assists tops Bouwmeester's output. The sky is the limit for #4.
The hockey atmosphere in Toronto is fantastic. They sleep, eat and drink the game up here and you can feel the love of the game in the city. Game time is 7:30 so we'll start the radio coverage at 7 on 1360 WKAT AM. The game is on 560 WQAM as soon as the Marlins game ends which should be between 7 and 7:30. It's been a fun season with many ups and downs and with only four games left I look for the Panthers to play hard right down to the wire. Enjoy the game!!!