Wednesday, March 22, 2017


The Home Stretch-NHL 2017

Most of the NHL teams have about ten games remaining at this point in their season. Some teams have already locked up a post season berth; some are planning for next year; several teams are on the bubble, playing for a chance to earn some playoff cash, and an opportunity to drink from the Stanley Cup.

The Florida Panthers recently had their best West Coast road trip ever, winning five out of five games. Once they returned home, with high expectations, they went, as they say, “in the tank”. They won once in the next nine games. Ouch.

The Toronto Maple Leafs took the ice against the Panthers on their recent Florida trip. The naysayers in the Toronto camp were upset that the team had arrived a little early, and that they had time for a little fishing and tanning. Expectations were high for the Leafs as the puck dropped at the B T & T Centre in Sunrise.

Those hopes were dashed quickly when the Panthers struck after 18 seconds had ticked off the clock. Jonathan Huberdeau fed linemate Alexsander Barkov for an easy tally, slipping the puck past Frederik Andersen. On their second goal, Toronto defender Nikita Zaitsev lost an edge at a critical moment, allowing Colton Sceviour to score short-handed.

James Reimer tended goal for the Panthers, and allowed two pucks to get by him as the Cats defeated the Leafs 7-2. I am certain that Reimer relished the win against his former team. No matter what might be said, there is always that extra motivation in those circumstances. He spoke modestly after the game. “It's nice to win this one and have a good feeling. I think you enjoy it, for the moment. But then you've got to get back to work, for the next game.” He has been steady in goal for the Panthers, especially when the Number One tender, Roberto Luongo, has been sidelined. But at this point in the season, the Panthers needed spectacular goaltending, and neither Reimer nor Berra have been able to provide that.

The Leafs flew out to the west coast of Florida after the game. They trounced the Tampa Bay Lightning 5-0. The Panthers headed north to Ohio to face the Columbus Blue Jackets, and lost a squeaker 2-1. Most hockey pundits agree that parity is responsible for results like this. Most teams are so evenly matched that anything can happen on any given night.

The Panthers seem to be pleased to have Tomas Vanek in their lineup. He arrived via the trade route on March 1st. The big winger has 43 points in 54 games this season, and is just 33 years old. He had four assists in the game against the Leafs, and does not play on the first line.

The B B & T Centre was evenly divided between Leafs and Panthers fans, as is often the case around March Break. The Leafs trailed 3-1 at the end of the first period, but 6-2 at the end of the second. At the end of the day, the Panthers trailed the Leafs by five points in the playoff hunt. Two days later, that gap was seven points. The Carolina Hurricanes shaded the Panthers 4-3 on Tuesday night, moving ahead of the Cats by two points. The Panthers trail the Leafs by 8 points, with ten games to go. A tough chore, with little time remaining.

The Florida Gulf Coast Eagles men's basketball team had their hopes dashed in the first round of the NCAA playoffs last Thursday night. The Florida State Seminoles proved to be too strong, and outlasted the fiery Eagles 86-80. A fine effort, and a great season for the Eagles.

Spring Training is in full progress here in Fort Myers with the Twins and the Red Sox vying for attention. The Blue Jays trail in the Grapefruit League. Need I remind you that these games do not count?

James Hurst
March 21, 2017.

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