Sports Outside the Beltway

Florida Panthers- Too little, Too late

My favorite hockey team did something last night they seldom do. Beat Carolina in Carolina.

RALEIGH, N.C. – Nathan Horton had a goal and an assist and the Florida Panthers beat Carolina 4-3 on Friday night to prevent the Hurricanes from clinching the Southeast Division.

Radek Dvorak added a goal and an assist, and Jay Bouwmeester and Steve Montador also scored for the Panthers, who snapped a 13-game losing streak on Carolina’s home ice and won here for the first time since 2002.

Eric Staal, Sergei Samsonov and Trevor Letowski each scored for the Hurricanes, who would have clinched the division with a victory and outshot Florida 46-17 while committing no penalties to the Panthers’ nine.

Instead for Carolina, it will be a long weekend of scoreboard watching. Washington would clinch the division title by beating Florida on Saturday night. The division goes to the Hurricanes with a Capitals loss.

Tomas Vokoun stopped 17 of the 18 shots he faced in the first period before leaving with back spasms and giving way to Craig Anderson, who finished the game and made 26 saves for the Panthers. Cam Ward made 13 saves in his 20th straight start for Carolina before he was pulled for an extra attacker with about 1 1/2 minutes left.

Samsonov had pulled Carolina within one goal by scoring on the power play midway through the third period, taking a feed from Ray Whitney and one-timing it high and past Anderson’s glove side to make it 4-3. But Anderson was impenetrable after that, making flashy save after flashy save to seal Florida’s first victory in Raleigh since a 2-0 win on Dec. 6, 2002.

Tonight Florida can try to foil Washington’s season by beating them. At present Washington and Carolina are tied for the Southeast Division lead and final playoff spot. Washington has the inside track to make the playoffs, if they win tonight they are in.

Florida wins a meaningless game or two to close out the 2007-08 season. As I wrote last week, this was the year for Florida to not just make the playoffs but win the division. This team just can’t win when it matters, and has proven that time and time again. Last night just being the latest instance. This team needs to be shaken up or Panther fans can expect more of the same in the years ahead.

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