”Just don’t get too complicated. When a guy gets complicated, he’s unhappy. And when he’s unhappy, his luck runs out.” from the Blue Dahlia by Raymond Chandler.
CORAL SPRINGS – There’s not a lot left for Peter DeBoer to say.
Through 77 games, through a season that has seen the Panthers fall in-and-out of the playoff race and up-and-down the standings like “a rubber ball,” said Radek Dvorak, DeBoer has stressed the Panthers attack the puck, the net, and stay aggressive.
Now, with five games remaining in the regular season and the Panthers oh, so close, to making the post season, DeBoer’s message is simple going into Friday’s game at BankAtlantic Center against the red-hot Thrashers.
“We’ve just got to cut loose here and go for it,” said DeBoer after Thursday’s short, energetic practice at IncredibleIce.
“I still find a little hesitation in our game, and I don’t know whether it’s the pressure of the situation or thinking too much,” he added. “We’ve got to take a little more carefree approach.”
Keep it simple. Don’t get too complicated. “It’s handling the pressure the right way and playing our game,” DeBoer said.
“That’s all you can ask. Play our game for five games here and let the chips fall where they may.”
Defenseman Jassen Cullimore, who raised the Stanley Cup with Tampa in 2004, says the Panthers are in an interesting position.
“You don’t want to play nervous, so it’s kind of a fine line,” he said. “It’s an important game, and you don’t want to lose that, but you also don’t want to make it where you’re clutching the stick a little too tight or over-thinking things. You have good instincts, good skills, and you have to be able to use those things because if you’re nervous or over-thinking you don’t use those things (and) you tend to do things you normally wouldn’t.
“It’s a fine line to find that spot where instinct takes over.”
Dvorak, a veteran of two Stanley Cup Finals, said the pressure can be tough.
“Obviously, you feel the pressure, especially with five games left,” he said. “Every point is huge right now and there’s more pressure because a mistake can cost you a playoff spot.
“But during the game you don’t think about that kind of stuff. Everyone on the hockey team knows how to play the game. They know what to do. The pressure is on non-game days, during practice, before the game. But once the game starts, we feed off one another. You see a guy do well and you want to do the same thing and it snowballs.
“I think we’ve been doing a good job. Every guy is trying his best and that’s why we’re beating teams.”
Ville Peltonen, who helped deliver a world championship to his native Finland in 1996, echoed DeBoer’s sentiments about what it will take to win these last five games and gain entry into the playoffs.
“I think we have to stay determined, go out there and be aggressive, and take the game,” he said. “We’ve been in tough games what seems all year. Whatever it’s been, we’ve been there. It’s been a fun year, and we want to make it even more fun.”APPRECIATING THE THRASHERS
How good are the Thrashers going right now? Once nine games under .500, the Thrashers have won 10 of their last 13 games and come into BankAtlantic Center on a three-game winning streak and with a 33-38-6 record.
DeBoer reiterated Thursday just how dangerous this kind of opponent is in the last weeks of the season. Out of the playoffs, but loose and playing with nothing to worry about.
“You can see it,” he said. “All those teams are beating people. Ottawa is beating people, Atlanta is beating people, the Leafs beat Philly (Wednesday) night in a huge game for Philly. It’s happening all across the league.
“I watched (Atlanta) play Buffalo last night. They might have ended Buffalo’s playoff hopes. We’re all aware of that. I’m not concerned about looking past anyone with five games left.”
The Thrashers, who beat Buffalo in overtime Wednesday, can be an explosive team with Ilya Kovalchuk (41 goals, 89 points) and ageless Slava Kozlov (25 goals, 75 assists). Kovalchuk has a five-game, goal scoring streak going with 10 points in his last five games. Kozlov has four goals and seven points in his last five games.
The Panthers will keep a close eye on Kovalchuk, who has feasted on the Panthers in the past with 28 goals (55 points) in 42 career games.
With Kari Lehtonen injured, Johan Hedberg will get the start in goal. Hedberg is on a three-game winning streak. He’s 3-4 in his career against the Panthers with an .888 save percentage and 3.19 goals against.
Defenseman Anssi Salmela wasn’t expected to make the trip to Sunrise. His place will taken by Boris Valabik.
On his team’s recent run of success, coach John Anderson said; “We’re seeing a lot of good things, and we want to maintain that.”NO CHANGES
DeBoer said he won’t make any changes to Friday’s lineup.
“Same lineup, same starting goalie, hopefully, the same result,” he said.
Goalie Craig Anderson is 2-0 against the Thrashers in his career with a .931 save percentage and 2.26 goals against.
David Booth has six goals in 10 games against Atlanta, Nathan Horton has 13 goals in 32 games. Michael Frolik has three goals in four career games against Atlanta.
Cory Stillman has eight points (three goals) in his last five games. Stephen Weiss
has a two-game, goal scoring streak.SCOREBOARD WATCHING
Two huge games Thursday night: Canadiens at the Islanders, Rangers at Carolina.GET A TICKET, PAL. THERE’S NO LOCAL TV
Get your tickets for Friday’s game against Atlanta. There will be no local television. The game will be broadcast on Center Ice.