By Bill Whitehead
There’s a storm brewing in British Columbia. And it’s one that will have the Florida Panthers seeing double.
Game 3 of Florida’s 5-game road swing takes place in Vancouver on Tuesday (10 p.m., ET), and after watching the Canucks lose 2-1 in regulation Sunday night against the visiting Dallas Stars, I can only conclude that the Panthers (5-12-4) and interim coach Peter Horachek had better be prepared for what’s in store for them. Or in storm for them.
It will be a typically talented group of Canucks (11-8-3) awaiting Florida at Rogers Arena, but factor in a bit of an edge bordering on rage as well. That’s what happens when you’re talented and expect to win, plus have a fiery new coach who regularly rages, but haven’t been winning. Vancouver has dropped four straight games, managing just one goal in each of the losses.
The problem lately has been what has ordinarily been double-trouble for Vancouver’s opponents – the Sedin twins. Henrik entered the Dallas game without a goal in 10 straight, while Daniel hadn’t found the net in his last five. Henrik finally got on the scoresheet with a power-play goal in the third period, but it wasn’t enough against the stalwart goaltending of Kari Lehtonen. Beaten by the Panthers on opening night in Big D, the Finnish netminder has been especially thrifty on the road, with an 8-1 mark and a GAA right at 2.00. He weathered 20 shots in the second period as Vancouver brought the heat, but Lehtonen stopped them all then and 42 for the game. Dallas took over in the third period and controlled play to win its sixth straight on the road, tying the mark set by Colorado from Oct. 8 to Nov. 1.
Vancouver pressed for most of the game and had some bad luck, too. Henrik scored a goal in the second period, but it was waved off due to a call of goalie interference on his twin. Coach John Tortorella was irate, and he had every right to be over the bad call. Even Lehtonen didn’t think there was interference on the play. It was the type of play that could be reversed in the future if the NHL decides to employ the NFL’s challenge policy.
Tim Thomas will likely get the call in net for Florida. Thomas, of course, was spectacular in 2011 when he shut down the Canucks to help lead the Boston Bruins to a Stanley Cup championship. With a nice rest since beating Colorado Saturday night and considering his past play against the Canucks, it only makes sense to see him in goal Tuesday night.
Whether it’s Thomas or backup Scott Clemmensen, Florida’s starting goaltender should expect a constant barrage from this desperate Vancouver bunch. Through two periods Sunday, the Canucks held a 33-13 advantage in shots, much of it coming from the first power play unit of the Sedins, Ryan Kesler, Kevin Bieksa and Alexander Edler. Vancouver likes to employ Daniel Sedin in the slot, passing back and forth to him, and he’ll slide down in front of the crease to create traffic if nothing opens up. So the No. 1 key to the game will be Florida staying out of the penalty box. No. 2 would probably be cleaning up second-chance opportunities because the Canucks love to create problems around the crease. Let’s just say they like to have a riotous time out front and leave it at that.
On the other end of the ice, Florida will either see an old friend in Roberto Luongo or backup Eddie Lack in goal. The Swedish Lack is 2-2 and has played twice this month, but my guess is Luongo will get the nod against his old team, especially with Vancouver sorely needing a win and riding that winless streak. Tortorella and company received a scare in the first minute against Dallas when Luongo was plastered by Tyler Seguin after the forward received a shove from Dan Hamhuis, but Luongo was fine.
The Cats had better don their foul-weather gear and be ready for the storm that’s about to come in the Northwest.
VANCOUVER: BY THE NUMBERS
Record: 11-8-3 (9th, Western Conference)
Last 10: 4-4-2
Goals per game: 2.50 (20th)
Goals against per: 2.54 (15th)
Power play %: 11.6 (27th)
Penalty kill %: 89.0 (1st)
DID YOU KNOW?: Florida’s five wins have all been against teams with winning records who currently hold a combined mark of 65-29-8. Four of those teams are from the Western Conference.