|Goaltender Jose Theodore makes one of his 34 saves against Carolina on Sunday for his third shutout of the season (Getty Images)
A lot of times in hockey, the best player on the ice has to be the goaltender. For the Panthers lately, Jose Theodore
has certainly been that.
"I can basically give you a one word answer there and I think he's played excellent," said Panthers Head Coach Kevin Dineen regarding Theodore's recent play following practice at the BankAtlantic Center on Monday. "He's a difference maker right now."
Theodore has missed time this season due to a knee injury but has been fantastic for the Panthers since returning on February 12. While his record in the 12 games he has played is just 5-4-2, Theodore has posted a .928 save percentage and a 2.20 goals-against average. In his last seven games, the netminder has registered a 4-2-1 record. A free agent signee this past off-season, Theodore has allowed two goals or less in nine of his 12 games since returning from the injury.
"I think coming back off my knee injury the second time, I just felt really, really good," said Theodore following Sunday's shutout of Carolina, his third of the season. "I've been practicing hard with (goaltending coach) Robbie (Tallas) and the last 25 games, it's why you play for.
"It's the most fun of the year and you want to make the best out of it. Right now as a team, we're responding well."
His teammates know that Theodore, or even Scott Clemmensen
for that matter, have their backs, especially down the stretch. Case in point came with Carolina coming at Florida in waves, specifically in the second period when they posted 19 shots Sunday night.
"Theo was, just like all year he's been extremely great for us," said defenseman Jason Garrison
following the Panthers victory. "He made some huge saves and kept us in it."
"Theo is playing unbelievable right now," said forward Tomas Fleischmann
. "We have got to help him."
"When you look at the scoreboard and you're up by one goal, you know every save is big," said Theodore of his performance Sunday. "I was just seeing the puck well. The guys played well in front of me. This time of year, it's all about competing, playing playoff hockey and that's what we did."
With just 14 games left in the season, the Panthers will rely on the netminders in winning games. With games becoming more closely contested, a strong goaltending performance can be huge for the rest of the team in propelling them forward. Or on the opposite spectrum, a poor performance can dash playoff hopes.
"If we keep winning, that's all that's going to matter," said Theodore. "Honestly, you do look at the other teams. It's going to be a battle and it's not going to be easy."
"It's pitching in baseball. It's a goalie in soccer. It's a quarterback in football," said Dineen. "It's a key position and when you have that player playing at the top of his game, not only on the prevent side, but I also think it is great for the confidence of your players."