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.


How about them Florida Panthers?

They beat the New York Rangers last night to pull within 5 points of the Division lead.

SUNRISE – Panthers captain Olli Jokinen had not scored in eight games but had been finding ways to contribute during Florida’s five-game win streak.

Friday, Jokinen took a more direct role, scoring the winning goal as the Panthers beat the Rangers 3-2 to stretch their win streak to six games.

It was a matchup between the NHL’s two hottest teams, and it was the Panthers who remained doused New York, which had not lost in regulation in 13 games and was 10-0-3 during that five-week stretch.

Does the Sun-Sentinel’s Ted Hutton ever study the NHL besides the Florida Panthers. The San Jose Sharks had won 10 games in a row going into last night. That makes them one of the hottest two teams in the NHL, and Florida not.

The Panthers had not won six in a row since March 17-29 of 2006 when they won seven straight.

The Panthers also closed to within five points of division-leading Carolina, which lost to Buffalo on Friday.

The Hurricanes got their heads handed to them by Buffalo on Friday, 7-1. Carolina is still in control over its own destiny, Florida only has two games left with the Hurricanes this season.

Pretty amazing Florida has never won more than seven in a row. They did however begin the 96-97 season(The season after their Stanley Cup appearance) with a seventeen game unbeaten streak. That was in the days before shootouts and the current NHL scoring system.

The Panthers’ penalty kill was crucial in the closing minutes, as they had to fend off two Rangers power plays.

The Panthers have nine games remaining in the regular season, all against Southeast Division foes.

“It’s good to have the nine games in the division. You have a little more control over your own fate,” Martin said.

The penalty kill at the end of the game was big. About a month ago Florida blew four two goal leads(three of them in the 3rd period) in a very short stretch of time. The Panthers showed last night they can close a big game.

Can this team keep doing it and make the playoffs? Florida has the talent, but their the worst underacheivers in the Eastern conference. The team’s injuries have been bad enough, but the Panthers just seem to play scared too often. I don’t want to get my hopes up too high about this team, since they’ve let me down regularly this season.

If Florida doesn’t make the playoffs, Jacques Martin may well be done with Florida as its head coach and even GM. I’ve got mixed feelings about that, but will address the subject at another time.


Toronto’s Nik Antropov suspended 3 games for throwing stick

The Maple Leaf forward did it as he left the penalty box during a game last night.

Toronto Maple Leafs forward Nik Antropov has been suspended for three games for throwing his stick in the direction of the referees when he left the penalty box after the Carolina Hurricanes won Thursday night, 3-2, in overtime.

It was the culmination of a difficult night for the Maple Leafs, who were seething about the officiating after the game in Raleigh, N.C.

Nik Antropov, who has played in all 53 Maple Leafs games this season, will miss three after throwing his stick toward the referees.

Antropov was called for hooking Cory Stillman with 2:36 left in overtime, and Rod Brind’Amour scored the winner during the power play. When Antropov departed from the penalty box, he slammed his stick on the ice, then tossed it along the boards, but toward the referees. He was assessed two game misconduct penalties, the second of which was for abuse of an official and carries an automatic three-game suspension.

Antropov, 27, has played in all 53 Leafs games this season and has 41 points (18 goals, 23 assists), second-best on the team behind only captain Mats Sundin.

According to the NHL rulebook, a three-game suspension is levied when “any player or goalkeeper who, by his actions, physically demeans an official or physically threatens an official by [but not limited to] throwing a stick or any other piece of equipment.”

NHL senior vice president of hockey operations Mike Murphy confirmed from the league office in Toronto that Antropov would be suspended for three games, according to the Toronto Globe and Mail.

I haven’t seen a video of the incident, but if Antropov threw his stick anywhere in the direction of the refs, the Maple Leaf player has gotten off lightly for his actions. Not surprisingly, since the NHL has handed out light penalties for far worse actions than Antropov’s. That the league contiues this policy may not be anything new, but I feel outrage should still be expressed till the NHL does something about these hooligans.


Post NHL All-Star game playoff assessment- Eastern Conference

From top to bottom, the standings

Ottawa Senators 51 32-15-4-68
Montréal Canadiens 50-27-15-8-62
Philadelphia Flyers 49-28-16-5-61
Pittsburgh Penguins 50 28-18-4-60
New Jersey Devils 50-28-19-3-59
Boston Bruins 50-26-19-5-57
New York Islanders 51-24-21-6-54
New York Rangers 52-24-22-6- 54
Carolina Hurricanes 53-25-24-4-54
Washington Capitals 51-23-23-5-51
Atlanta Thrashers 52-23-25-4-50

Buffalo Sabres 49-22-21-6-50
Florida Panthers 51-22-24-5-49
Toronto Maple Leafs 52-20-24-8-48
Tampa Bay Lightning 51-20-26-5-45

Note- The numbers above from left to right are- Games played, wins, losses, Overtime losses, total points

Teams in Bold are Southeast Division teams

First of all barring a complete collapse by these teams, you have to think Ottawa, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, New Jersey and Montreal are locks to make the playoffs. You can probably also toss Boston in.

The rest of the conference is pretty wide open. The only teams that appear to have little chance are Tampa and Toronto.

The Southeast Division is wide open. It is also a division likely to send only one team to the playoffs. First to fourth place is separated by a measly 5 pts, and the 4th place team Florida has played two less games than division leader Carolina. That would point to Florida having a good chance to make the playoffs for the first time in 8 years. On the other hand, there is the team’s listless play of late, only 4 wins in 14 games and this from today’s Palm Beach Post.

The Panthers, who return to action tonight against Buffalo following the All-Star break, say they are determined to end their agonizing playoff drought.

But some observers think the Panthers haven’t exhibited enough determination to reach the post-season for the first time since April 2000.

To put it more bluntly, some critics think they are soft.

“This team plays too much on the perimeter; I haven’t seen the willingness to get their noses dirty and do the dirty work,” said NHL broadcaster John Vanbiesbrouck, who starred in the nets for the Panthers when they reached the Stanley Cup Final in 1996.

“Winning isn’t easy. You’ve got to make up your mind you’re going to do whatever it takes to get there and play like that every night.”

I’m not totally sure if Vanbiesbrouck is right in what he says. Florida has blown at least five games this year in the last minute of play. They’ve also played games where they either quit or showed little effort. I’ve missed only a handful of games on television this year, Florida has the talent to win the division and even make a run in the playoffs. The only teams I worry about in the conference are Ottawa, Pittsburgh, Carolina and Toronto (The Maple Leaf oversized defensemen seem to intimidate the Panthers) when Florida faces them.

I question if the Panthers has the desire, and perhaps the coaching. Why the hell did the team send Shawn Matthias back to the minors? He scored two goals in four NHL games, two of which Jacques Martin barely played him in, and 21 in 32 games of OHL play before his callup. I rather have Matthias on the roster than the overrated Brett McLean or Kamil Kreps. After all, Kreps has just 4 goals in 45 games played!

Boy am I getting gloomy about this Panthers team.


Are the 2007-08 Florida Panthers over the hump?

They won last night, marking for the fist time this season that the team has a winning record.

Thursday night’s Panthers-Hurricanes game might as well have been played on a roller coaster, it had so many ups and downs.

In the end, the final up went to Florida, which registered a 5-4 victory at the BankAtlantic Center, taking the lead for good on Brett McLean’s goal midway through the third period.

Back home after winning three of four games on the road and facing the Southeast Division leaders, the Panthers had nothing but opportunity in front of them. A win would cut into their five-point division deficit and set an energizing tone for a year-end schedule that features four of five games at the BankAtlantic Center.

It looked bleak when Carolina took a 3-1 lead after the first period, but the Panthers rallied for their third consecutive victory. They now trail the Hurricanes by just three points.

I have felt from Opening Night, that this Panther team is capable of taking the Southeast Division. That the team is right on Carolina’s back at the moment says something(Other than the SE division being mediocre) about how Florida has come this far. They’ve been plagued by injuries this year, particularly to defensemen(Three are out at this time, and its not known when any will be back) but all through this the team has pulled themselves over .500. Yes I still worry about the lack of punch the team has, their tendency to sit on a lead, and whether they give up when they fall behind. As to the last, maybe we’ve seen the end of it. For Florida was down 3-1 a little over 16 minutes into the game. The Panthers then stormed back.

The Eastern Conference playoff picture stands like this. Teams in italics are Southeast division teams

1- Ottawa 22-8-3 47 pts
2- Boston 18-12-4 40
T3- Montreal 17-12-5 39
T3- Carolina 18-15-3
T3- New Jersey 18-13-3 39
6 NY Rangers 17-14-3 37
T7 Florida 17-16-2 36
T7 Pittsburgh 17-15-2
T9 with 35 pts Buffalo and Philadelphia(32 games played each) and Toronto(35 games)
T12 with 33 pts Atlanta and Tampa Bay in 34 and 35 games respectively.

You can look at it one of two ways. Florida is four pts out of 2nd place in the conference or that the cats are just a game or two from being in 10th place because of the fewer games played by Buffalo and Philadelphia. As I see the conference, Florida can play as well as anyone with the exception of Ottawa, and arguably Carolina and New Jersey. The cats, who are notoriously bad as a road team, are 8-9-1. When you factor in injuries and the Panthers road record, this team could finish as high as 2nd in the conference, but more likely 4th or 5th. I think my preseason prediction of Florida making the playoffs for the first time since 2000, is looking better and better.


NHL owners approve scheduling changes

All NHL teams will meet again once every season. From AP-

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – The NHL’s board of governors approved the sale of the Nashville Predators and changed the league’s scheduling format Thursday night to allow every team to face each other at least once every season.

Paul Kelly, the new executive director of the NHL Players Association, also addressed the league’s owners during a late-afternoon session to open the board’s two-day meeting at an elite resort on the Northern California coast.

After a three-year experiment in developing rivalries in hockey’s far-flung outposts, the NHL voted to go back to the scheduling format used before the 2004-05 lockout, most notably decreasing the current eight games against every team’s divisional opponents to six.

Starting next season, teams will play just 24 total games against their four divisional foes, 40 against the rest of the conference and 18 against the other conference — one game against all 15 foes, and three home-and-home series against wild-card opponents.

First let me state, my interest in hockey was only rekindled in the last year. Otherwise I had watched little of the sport since the end of the NY Islanders Dynasty in the early to mid eighties.

The arrangement where teams didn’t all meet seemed dumb to me. Fans in the west miss out on seeing players like Sidney Crosby and fans in the east miss getting to see……. well see what problem I have. LOL, make that former Florida Panther and ace goaltender Roberto Luongo. Now I can learn about the LA Kings, San Jose Sharks etc. To be honest I’m sick of Atlanta. You would be too if you had to see the Thrashers and Panthers cross sticks eight times a year.


NHL Draft Lottery Results

It appears the Chicago Blackhawks have won the NHL Lottery thus making the first 14 picks of the NHL draft order look like this:

1 Chicago Blackhawks (moved up from 5th spot)
2 Philadelphia Flyers (moved down from 1st spot)
3 Phoenix Coyotes (moved down from 2nd spot)
4 Los Angeles Kings (moved down from 3rd spot)
5 Washington Capitals (moved down from 4th spot)
6 Edmonton Oilers
7 Columbus Blue Jackets
8 Boston Bruins
9 St. Louis Blues
10 Florida Panthers
11 Carolina Hurricanes
12 Montreal Canadiens
13 Toronto Maple Leafs
14 Colorado Avalanche

Picks 15-30 will be settled after the palyoffs.


NHL History Made

With Carolina’s 3-2 Loss to Tampa Bay, the Hurricanes became the first defending Stanley Cup winner to miss the playoffs the next season since New Jersey in 1996. However, that is not this history… Thanks to the Edmonton Oilers collapse since the NHL Trade Deadline, this will be the first season ever where both teams that played in the previous season’s Stanley Cup Finals will fail to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs in the following season.

This raises an interesting question is this a case of parity or was last season a fluke?


NHL Trade Deadline Day

Today brings the NHL Trade Deadline, a national holiday in Canada. Of course most of the trades won’t many anything except to Canadians and the five die-hard American fans, I’ll just bring you some of the big name/impact trades as they happen through out the day. But if you are Canadian or one of the five, visit’s site they will give you everything from Edmonton and Toronto trading 7th round draft picks to the guy traded for a bag of pucks. (oh yes they have a live broadcast too.)

Deals of Note

To NY Islanders: F – Ryan Smyth
To Edmonton: F – Robert Nilsson, F – Ryan Omarra, 2007 1st Round Pick
The inability of Edmonton to reach a new contract agreement with Ryan Smyth forced this trade. Edmonton gains nothing and loses the cornerston of their franchise who has been with the team since they drafted him in 1994. Great move by the Islanders, that will help them in the playoff push. I am suprised Edmonton didn’t get a bidding war going, but it was reported that they refused to deal him to a Western Conference Team.

To Dallas: D – Mattias Norstrom, F – Konstantin Pushkarev, 2007 3rd and 4th Round Pick
To Los Angeles: D – Jaroslav Modry, D – Johan Fransson, 2008 1st Round Pick, 2007 2nd and 3rd Round Pick
This wins the award for most complex trade of the day and most difficult for many Kings Fans. Dallas gets Kings’ Captian Mattias Norstrom a solid (but old school) defensive defenseman to shore up their defensive core, who is under contract for next season. Dallas also picks up Pushkarev who can play bigger than he is, but has attitude problem caused mostly by Russian Clubs who consistently tell him he gets no respect in the NHL and should be playing in Russia. The Kings eat the salary of turn over machine Modry (who is a free agent on July 1st) and get the first right to Swedish prospect defensive Fransson. As for the picks… The Kings net a 1st rounder in the stronger 2008 draft and swap around draft positions in 2007 (the Kings’ original 3rd round pick would be higher than Dallas’ original 3rd round pick based on this season standings. Overall the Kings moved up in the draft board in 2007 while Dallas moved down.

To Colorado: F – Scott Parker
To San Jose: 2008 6th Round Pick
Nothing major here, San Jose just picks up an additional draft pick and frees up some roster and cap space.

To Toronto: F – Yanic Perreault, 2008 5th Round Pick
To Phoenix: D – Brendan Bell, 2008 2nd Round Pick
Yanic, who was unsigned for the frist two months of the season, pays off for Phoenix with a higher draft pick and a defensive prospect to build for the future. Toronto picks up a healthy and effective center for a playoff run in what will be a tight playoff push in the east. This is Yanic’s 3rd stint with Toronto.

To Buffalo: F – Dainius Zubrus, D – Timo Helbling
To Washington: F – Jiri Novotnv, 2007 1st Round Pick
Buffalo adds a talented forward but raw forward (with motivational issues) and a defensive prospect to build for the future and a playoff push. In return Washington gets a low 1st round pick in a weak draft and a talented foward who lacks finishing skills and is prone to laziness

To Detroit: F – Todd Bertuzzi
To Florida: TBA Pending Trade Call with NHL Head Office F – Shawn Matthias, 2007 Conditional Draft Pick, 2008 Conditional 2nd Round Draft Pick
Florida gets a top prospect and picks for rebuilding while giving Detroit Bertuzzi who has only played 7 games this seasons. When healthy Bertuzzi is a force on the ice, but no one knows if he will regain his for and if he can avoid sucker punching other players.

To San Jose: F – Bill Guerin
To St. Louis: F – Ville Nieminen, F – Jay Barriball, 2007 1st Round Pick
San Jose gets a first line winger, Stanley Cup Winner and six time All-Star. He possess a big shot, a mean streak that combine power and speed. He will help the Sharks immensely as they make a push for the Stanley Cup.

To Pittsburgh: F – Georges Laraque
To Phoenix: F – Danny Carcillo, 2007 8th Round Pick
Pittsburgh gets one of NHL’s best heavyweights and enforcers to protect their young stars for the playoff run.

To Philadelphia: G – Martin Biron
To Buffalo: Undisclosed Draft Pick 2007 2nd Round Pick
This deal unloads unhappy goalie Biron to Philadelphia. Biron had lost his starting spot in Buffalo and was going to walk away from the team this summer as a free agent, so they pick up what they could for him. I imagine the draft pick will be determined based on Philadelphia’s ability to sign Biron this summer. (in a minor deal, Buffalo acquired Ty Conklin from Columbus for future considerations a 2007 5th Round Pick to fill Biron’s role as backup for the rest of the season and playoffs)

To Pittsburgh: F – Gary Roberts
To Florida: D – Noah Welch
Roberts is a power forward who loves to crash the net and battle for loose pucks. At 40 years old, he is a short term rental for the young Pittsburgh team to provided leadership and grit from past Stanley Cup Playoffs. Welch is a 24 year old defenseman; he’s a big presence on the blue line (6’4″) with a big shot from the point. With his upside this could pay off for Florida in the long run.

To Vancouver: F- Bryan Smolinski
To Chicago: 2007 Conditional 2nd Round Pick

To Vancouver: D – Brent Sopel
To Los Angeles: 2008 2nd and 4th Round Pick
In both of these trades are to improve Vancouver, currently the #3 seed in the West. Smolinski is a veteran center, who becomes a free agent on July 1st, while Sopel can play like a top 4 defensemen (but is prone to stupid mistakes) and provides additional offensive spark at the blue line. The picks are a wash; Los Angeles got a better deal than Chicago as the 2008 draft is projected to be stronger than the 2007 draft.

To NY Islanders: F – Richard Zednik
To Washington: 2007 2nd Round Pick
Islanders pick up extra offense to sneak into the Playoffs, provided Zednik doesn’t go into one of his prolonged scoring slumps.

To Atlanta: F – Keith Tkachuk
To St. Louis: F – Glen Metropolit, 2007 1st and 3rd Round Picks, 2008 2nd Round Pick
Atlanta gets a veteran scorer (with historic playoff scoring problems), while St. Louis gets a career reserve forward and a bunch of picks to rebuild the time. This deal is mainly to set the price for Bill Guerin.

To Philadelphia: D – Braydon Coburn
To Atlanta: D – Alexei Zhitnik
Philadelphia gets a young defenseman with lots of upside, while Atlanta gets a veteran defenseman with a big slap shot and the ability to play a big man’s game…when he’s motivated to.

To Carolina: F – Anson Carter
To Columbus: 2008 5th Round Pick
Carolina gets Carter, who had been a disappointment from Columbus on the cheap. Could pay dividends for Carolina IF Carter rediscovers his scoring touch.

To Nashville: F – Peter Forsberg
To Philadelphia: F – Scottie Upshall, D – Ryan Parent, 2007 1st and 3rd Round Pick
Nashville sold the farm to get Forsberg, which means this is the year they are really going for the Cup hard. Forsberg is a immense talent and game changer, but recent history shows he is one big hit away from the injured list. By far the biggest risk-reward player out there and really could push Nashville over the top. On an ironic side note, Nashville now has two of the biggest divers in the League on their team in Peter Forsberg and Paul Kariya.


Visitors Since Feb. 4, 2003

All original content copyright 2003-2008 by OTB Media. All rights reserved.