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VanMurph's View: How Sweet It Is

by Staff Writer / Florida Panthers
Murphy and Vanessa Burch
Murphy Burch is back for his second season of blogging. He will be sharing his views on the Panthers during the year, along with fellow fan blogger, Cliff Peeke (Peeke's Points).

Murphy, an airline pilot originally from North Carolina, is better known as vanmurph on the Panthers message boards and he, along with his wife Vanessa are two of the most vociferous fans at the BankAtlantic Center.

VanMurph's View Blog Archive

Ok I’ll admit it: I don’t like them. I don’t like their coach and I don’t like their players, but most of all, I don’t like their obnoxious, pompous, hubristic fans. Any respect I once had for their storied organization has been eroded away in the recent past due to the actions of their coach, their players, and most of all, their obnoxious, pompous, hubristic fans…   

Unless you’ve ever sat in your own building and suffered through the humiliation of having thousands of the other team’s fans make a mockery of your team, your arena, and you, you may think I’m being a bit too harsh on the Canadiens’ faithful. But Panthers fans have indeed suffered the aforementioned humiliation, repeatedly. The outright disrespectful behavior of our guests from Quebec has escalated during their team’s last few visits to the BankAtlantic Center, and it culminated with them loudly booing our team as they came out onto the ice on December 31st, and then arrogantly riding roughshod over Panthers fans as the Habs took the game 5-4. That loss was the toughest one I’ve endured in years. As a dyed-in-the-wool Panthers fan I sat there amazed that anyone could act that way, and I silently hoped that the Cats would step up to the challenge and give the home team fans something to be proud of, and more importantly, a means by which we could shove our visitors’ arrogance down their throats. Unfortunately, we once again walked out of our house with our tails between our legs in defeat as the fans who’d outnumbered us 3 to 1 chanted and sang their stupid soccer song…

Fast forward to January 26th…The Panthers had been on hot streak behind some of the most stellar goaltending ever seen in South Florida, and the Habs were coming off of a pair of impressive victories. The game was important to both clubs, as each needed a win to stay in the mix of teams fighting for a playoff spot. And the Panthers fans needed a win to release some of the pent-up frustrations that had built up over the first four months of the season. 

Despite feeling confident enough to take the morning off and not participate in the mid-day skate, the Habs struck first with a goal late in the second period on a power play created when Kamil Kreps got called for tripping. Luckily, that was the one and only puck that would find its way past Tomas Vokoun, and it was the last time the Canadiens’ fans would have anything to cheer about all night. The rest of the evening belonged to a stingy defense (they only allowed 17 shots on goal), a goaltender who’s been seeing the puck like it was a beach ball and a lanky kid up from the minors filling in for an injured first-line winger…Shawn Matthias provided all the offense the Panthers would need, and in the process he swung the momentum to the home team’s favor with a simply beautiful penalty shot goal to tie the game at one apiece early in the third period. 

Perhaps the coolest thing about it was watching Shawn give a little lip service to the Canadiens’ bench as he skated back after putting the puck over Halak’s blocker onto the top shelf. That goal gave our frustrated fans a reason to get up and make some noise, and from that point forward the intensity of the crowd never really let up. Later, with 7:01 remaining in the game, Matthias once again brought us to our feet by standing in front of the net and punching home a dirty goal that gave the Cats their first lead of the game! It also proved to be the game-winner as our defense took over and held Montreal to a handful of shots the rest of the way, including the last minute or so of 6-on-5 play after the Habs pulled their goalie in favor of the extra attacker. The Panthers didn’t allow a single shot on goal during that scramble.

One of the nicest things about winning this game 2-1 was the fact that the close score meant that nearly all of the Habs fans remained in the building right until the bitter end. Then they got to watch their team lose in regulation and then take a little of their own medicine as they left the BankAtlantic Center to a rousing cheer of “au revoir” being sung to them to the tune of their own “ole, ole, ole”, and a long and loud version of Steam’s “Na Na, Hey Hey, Kiss Him Goodbye” (Remember, they arrogantly sang that song to us in our own arena last season)…It was a little bit of revenge that all of us enjoyed exacting on the most arrogant fans in hockey. The same arrogant fans who booed the United States’ National Anthem during last year’s first round four-and-out performance in the playoffs.

With February fast approaching, we’re on the backside of the schedule and we find ourselves in the familiar position of being just outside or just at the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. But even with the frustration and inconsistent play that defined the first half of the season, we are well within striking distance of a middle-of-the-pack seed. On the flipside of that, however, we are also a couple bad bounces away from thirteenth place in the conference. 

Hopefully the momentum gained from going 6-2-2 in our last 10 will continue through the next few games and get us into the Olympic break with a playoff spot still intact. The stretch run promises to be exciting, especially with the expected return of David Booth, who has been out for 3+ months. The Panthers and their fans could certainly use a healthy and productive Booth, and when combined with the return of Nathan Horton, we could be in for an exciting March, April, and maybe even May…Much the same as last season, barring a complete meltdown or a breakout performance, we are going to head down the stretch duking it out with a half dozen other teams for a playoff berth. However, comparing last season to this one needs to be done with the recognition of one important difference; this season teams from the Western Conference have absolutely feasted on the teams from the East, and thus throw our total points out of kilter. Last season we would have needed 94 points (or one more puck in the net against Montreal) in order to make the playoffs. This season it appears that the required total will be less than that. Since we are slightly behind last years point total through the same number of games, that fact should play into our favor.

-Kenndal McArdle’s goal

On Saturday, January 23rd against the Maple Leafs, Gregory Campbell scooped up an errant pass in the neutral zone and quickly skated back into the Toronto end with Kenndal McArdle and Rostislav Olesz joining the rush. As Soupy approached the net, he turned and sent a perfect pass back toward McArdle who was just inside the far circle, and Kenndal let rip a gorgeous wrister that whizzed over Jonas Gustavsson’s glove side and slammed squarely into the back of the net!  For McArdle it was the first goal of his NHL career, and my friend Ward Benjamin was in exactly the right position to capture the moment. Thanks to Ward for allowing me to share the photo below with you. Congratulations to Kenndal on what was hopefully the first of many more goals in a Florida Panthers uniform!

-Impressive play of Tomas Vokoun

Over the course of the season, it’s interesting to watch the dynamics of mood swings and bandwagon behavior. It’s amusing to see how impatience causes people to explode early in October, and on the flip side, how some folks pre-maturely award the Stanley Cup two weeks into the season. It’s also intriguing to me to see the reaction of fans toward players who either don’t live up to their salary, or become the lightning rod for the blame of the team’s woes. Early in this season the Panthers’ lightning rod seemed to be Tomas Vokoun. He was not having a particularly good stretch of games, and when Scott Clemmensen came in and beat the Flyers, there were fan rumblings of getting rid of T-Vo in favor of Clemmensen…That was exactly six games into an 82-game schedule.

Luckily for this team, and for all us, no one in charge of making decisions listened to any of those rumblings. Tomas Vokoun, stated simply, is a consummate professional and a top-tier goalie in the National Hockey League. He faces tremendous numbers of shots, stays cool under pressure, and has performed incredibly in the last couple of months. It’s my opinion that he is most responsible for the fact that we are in a playoff spot after 53 games. His ability to go out and carry this team on his shoulders night-in and night-out has been overlooked by many of his critics, and yet he continues to perform game after game. In the last few weeks, his play has begun to be noticed by some of his most vocal critics. The following was posted by a friend on my facebook wall recently. I think it speaks volumes about the general change in attitude toward one of my favorite players on this hockey team:

"I will admit, I was one of the doubters of Tomas Vokoun. I questioned his work ethic, his drive, everything. But now, with the goals being scored the way they are by us, 1, 2, and on occasion 3, goaltending is needed by this franchise now more than ever. For anyone to step up, let alone like he has, it just goes to show that he truly is an elite goaltender in this league. If there was an All-Star game, he would be chosen. He is the soul of this team. I don't think Beezer ever played like Vokie has. This team is in the race, thanks to Vokie and some pretty good D."

T-Vo is without a doubt, the man! If he is able to lead this franchise back to the playoffs for the first time in a decade, he will have earned every cent of his salary, and in my opinion, even a contract extension.

Well, it’s been nearly eight weeks since I last wrote anything for the blog, and I was beginning to get emails and questions at games about the reason for my lack of production. I answered most of the inquiries by stating that the frustration with the inconsistent play, and the abysmal home record was really getting to me. With the team playing so many games in such a condensed period of time, combined with my desire to only put out something positive in the next entry (after having produced negatively tinged pieces in two of the last four entries), the timing just didn’t seem right. It seemed like every time I’d have an opportunity to write a positive entry, we’d lose several games in a row, or blow a multiple-goal lead en route to another frustrating loss. But with the Cats taking their last four games in regulation at home, and winning despite the loss of some key players, I was determined to sit and write an entry before heading off to work this evening.  The Panthers have made me very proud this month, and I sincerely hope they continue to push forward as we head into February and beyond. Getting the Boother back will go a long way toward that end, and so will a few more victories like the one last night. As fans, we are tired of being the doormats of the NHL, and being able to exact a little revenge on some of the more vocal fan bases in the coming months will help us to build confidence in our guys as the post-season approaches.

Thank you to all of you who emailed and sent messages to me on facebook after my last submission and in the interim two months. I enjoyed corresponding with each of you. If you have questions, comments, or suggestions, or if you just want to say Hi, I can be reached at: 

Thanks for stopping by the blog.


One last thing: Over the last few weeks it’s been a pleasure to see our new owners so visibly in the public eye. I’ve seen Cliff Viner standing in the concourses talking with fans on several occasions, and besides having the pleasure of chatting with Stu Siegel a couple of different times, we’ve also seen him participating in the intermission broom ball game at center ice. It’s refreshing to see the ownership taking such a public role in the everyday fan experience.
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