The Panthers gave the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks all they could handle Tuesday night at BB&T Center, and easily could have left the ice with a victory.
Coach Kevin Dineen doesn’t particularly like the concept of moral victories, but he even said after the game he wouldn’t judge his team’s performance against Chicago based on the final outcome.
This wasn’t the first time this season that the Panthers played a good game but weren’t fully rewarded for it. Other examples that jump out include the early game at Philadelphia and the Boston game last week at the BB&T Center.
The outcome of the game Tuesday night was decided in the shootout when Chicago’s Jonathan Toews and Patrick Sharp scored, and Jonathan Huberdeau and Brad Boyes were denied by Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford.
Crawford also had stopped Huberdeau on a penalty shot in the second period that if successful would have tied the game at one.
Here’s the thing, though: Based on the make-up of their team, the Panthers are likely to win more shootouts than they lose this season — and it’s precisely because of guys like Huberdeau and Boyes.
Yes, they came up short on this night, but the fact is they’re two of the best shootout performers in the NHL. Just go back to Saturday night when they both beat Minnesota’s Josh Harding — who just happens to have the best goals-against average of any goalie in the league with at least four starts with a ridiculous 0.96 save percentage.
And Huberdeau and Boyes didn’t just beat Harding Saturday night, they made him look silly.
The reality is even the best shootout players aren’t going to score every time. On this night, Crawford just happened to get the best of Huberdeau and Boyes.
But don’t forget that Boyes is tied with Zach Parise among active players with 32 career shootout goals, one less than the great Pavel Datsyuk. Huberdeau, meanwhile, still has a career mark of 3-for-6 in shootouts and 2-for-3 in penalty shots even after the two misses against Chicago.
As Dineen pointed out, Crawford figured out Huberdeau’s moves on Tuesday, but the Panthers’ young star has plenty more where those came from. Just watching him stickhandle through some of the Chicago defenders made that very clear.
While on the topic of shootouts, here’s hoping the league does something about some of the ridiculous moves that players are using where they practically stop and/or just hold the puck until they see something they like.
A good example of that came Tuesday night when Patrick Kane came in, slowed down, slowed down some more, even some more and eventually went to his backhand and continued to hold the puck until he finally decided to shoot it. The league rulebook says, “The puck must be kept in motion towards the opponent’s goal line,” but there have been a couple of instances this season where that’s been violated, such as when Toronto’s Mason Raymond applied the breaks and did a spin-o-rama right in front of Ottawa goalie — and former Panther — Craig Anderson.
Back to the Panthers and the Chicago game, though the loss was disappointing, it was the type of performance for Florida that will produce victories on a consistent basis.