For three weeks, the Panthers season seemed to be taking a new direction.
They were struggling, squandering leads and getting bad bounces. They had dropped from fifth in the tightly-contested Eastern Conference to ninth and were 2-7-1 in their last 10 games.
But sometimes what seems at the time to be a clear statement turns later into a simple detour, a cul de sac. The Panthers hope their 4-2 victory Thursday night in Philadelphia becomes just that in the weeks to come.
Not only did the Panthers snap a three-game losing streak Thursday while recovering from their worst loss of the season Wednesday in Buffalo, but they moved Friday morning to Dallas having played one of their strongest games of the past month.
“It was nice,” said coach Peter DeBoer as he traveled to Dallas. “I’ve been happy with our effort and the way we’ve been playing lately. We hadn’t been getting the bounces or timely goal or timely saves, and it all came together (Thursday) night. Hopefully, that will send is in the right direction in these last seven games.”
Seven games remain for the Panthers, and they remain two points out of a playoff spot and eighth-place Montreal. But the Panthers showed Thursday they can play a complete game through 60 minutes and, while remaining aggressive, can close out teams in the third period.
The difference Thursday as opposed to Wednesday, when they allowed three, third period goals in the span of 2:07?
“I think in the third period in the past few games we either had given up an untimely goal early or given up a bad bounce, and that’s kind of rattled out confidence,” DeBoer said.
Not Thursday against the Flyers with Craig Anderson replacing Tomas Vokoun in goal. Anderson not only stopped 40 shots, but the Panthers blocked 23 shots, including 11 in the first period.
“I think the guys felt confident (Thursday), and Craig Anderson deserves some of the credit for that,” DeBoer said. “He was solid back there and I think the guys felt that, and that breeds confidence.”
DeBoer, who called on Anderson to make his first start Thursday since March 1, said Friday morning he hadn’t decided who will play goal Saturday against the Dallas Stars. No matter who plays, DeBoer said it will be goaltending that determines where the Panthers end the season – in the playoffs or the outside looking in.
“I said when we got through the trade deadline the last eight weeks will be about staying healthy and goaltending,” he said. “That hasn’t changed. We’re healthy right now. We need great goaltending down the stretch. I know that puts a lot of pressure on one position, but that’s the type of team we are. We feed off good goaltending. Tomas Vokoun gave us that. He got us here. He played two months of fantastic hockey. We need that down the stretch from both those guys.”DEALING WITH TURCO
The Stars, who lost 1-0 Thursday in a shootout to the Kings, have struggled this month and will be 0-4-1 in their last five games when they play host Saturday to the Panthers.
But the Stars still have a chance to make the playoffs – they’re 12th in the Western Conference, five points behind eighth-place Nashville – and they have goalie Marty Turco in goal.
Turco, who admits his play recently has been “spotty at best,” gave the Panthers fits Jan. 21 at BankAtlantic Center when the Stars won 4-1. Turco handles the puck extremely well, and the Panthers were unable to establish any kind of forecheck last time against the roving netminder.Stephen Weiss
described Turco as being “like a third defenseman…he’s pretty mobile and he gets in the corners, too.”
“If he gets hold of it, it’s definitely a factor,” he added.
“We have to put the puck in the right place to get a forecheck because he can relieve a lot of pressure himself,” DeBoer agreed. “He’s definitely one of the things in our scouting report we’re going to have to concentrate on and talk about.”
OLESZ DOING BEST TO SALVAGE SEASON
|Panthers forward Rostislav Olesz hopes to have a impact in the last seven games for the Panthers after missing 43 games of the season due to suregery. (AP Photo/Jon Way) |
When Rostislav Olesz signed a six-year deal with the Panthers over the off-season, the Panthers believed he would be a 20-goal scorer and could eventually become a much-needed power forward.
Unfortunately, Olesz’s fourth NHL season, expected to be a breakout year, has been stalled by surgery and injury. Now with only two weeks remaining in the regular season, Olesz is trying to salvage what he can of his season with an eye toward the future.
“It’s been tough,” said the 23-year-old Czech winger recently. “I missed a lot of time, but I’ve been feeling good and I want to help the team.”
Olesz, the seventh pick overall in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft, has been setback by injuries since his first year in the league in 2005-06 when he missed 17 games with a sprained MCL. Last year he missed 14 games with a wrist injury while this year he missed 43 games after undergoing surgery to repair a hernia. Olesz has a goal and an assist in five games since returning to action March 17. He’s played the last two games alongside Weiss and David Booth.
“Every game I feel better,” he said. “It’s been a long time, but I’m getting more comfortable all the time. The game is fast so you have to get your timing, but I’m happy to be back and, hopefully, help our team.”
Olesz’s return has come at a good time for the Panthers, who have struggled over the past few weeks to score goals. For Olesz to succeed, however, coach Peter DeBoer wants him to use his 6-1, 207-pound frame to get to the net more and get gritty along the boards and corners.
“He’s still got to do things quicker and be a little more forceful and use his body and size a little more,” DeBoer said. “He needs to play more of a power-forward game. He’s one of the few guys up front that have power-forward capabilities.
“He’s got to use (his size). He’s got to get in the trenches and get physical. It’s been a process all year for him…He’s a big boy, a guy we need up front.”
Olesz said he realizes the Panthers desire and need for him to use his body and become more involved offensively. “(DeBoer) told me to play my game and use my body,” he said. “I’m trying to do that and I feel I’m getting better and better. I think when you’re using your body you’re more on the puck and your line is more in the other zone. Hopefully, by doing that we can score more goals.”SCOREBOARD WATCHING
Buffalo, five points behind the Panthers in 10th, play tonight against Toronto. On Saturday, the seventh-place Rangers are at Pittsburgh and the Sabres visit eighth-place Montreal, two points ahead of the Panthers.NOTES
So many players responsible for Thursday’s big win in Philly. Radek Dvorak had a goal, six shots, and was big on the penalty kill with Ville Peltonen, Gregory Campbell and Brett McLean, who had the game-winning goal. Karlis Skrastins had five 5 blocks. Nick Boynton was a plus-2, Keith Ballard had 3 hits and was a plus-2…Jay Bouwmeester played a game-high 27:44 and was much move involved offensively…