By Bill Whitehead
When this road trip popped up on the schedule, I thought Florida could come away with four points – win two and drop one, likely at Pittsburgh against the top team in the Eastern Conference.
Saturday’s dreadful showing in that House of Horrors in my home state left little optimism about the remainder of the trip. Pittsburgh had won 13 straight, and Sidney Crosby had scored a point in 17 straight games at Consol. With goaltender Tim Thomas out because of illness, the odds seemed slim.
I guess we never saw this one coming, huh?
Considering the level of the competition, Florida likely played their best game of the season in the 5-1 win over the Penguins. Drew Shore, who had so many breaks go against him last season, scored twice and set the tone. Dmitry Kulikov, who was rumored to be on the trading block last month, was aggressive and skated hard in on Marc-Andre Fleury a few times, and scored the third goal that gave the Panthers (19-23-7) a 3-0 lead.
Oddly, Jonathan Huberdeau, desperately in need of a goal, didn’t get screwed out of a goal when the War Room in Toronto likely set the season-high for time spent reviewing a goal. Shawn Matthias had that Matty Moment I’ve been waiting for and simply outskated Matt Niskanen for the final tally 12 seconds after Huberdeau’s.
Here are my multiple stars from tonight’s win, in no particular order:
- Scott Clemmensen, 35 saves. Had little faith in Clem going in, but he was outstanding. In fact, I bet he would admit the only goal he allowed was a bad one, but it doesn’t matter because he made so many great saves and was solid.
- Drew Shore, two goals. His goals left Cats’ fans more surprised than Fleury after the roof shot on the shorty. He gave Florida momentum it never let go.
- Jesse Winchester, three assists, plus-4. For someone who hadn’t played since Dec. 15, Winchester was sharp and is a welcome addition as a hard worker.
- Dmitry Kulikov, goal. He’s been a big disappointment for most of the year, but he played headstrong and with purpose tonight. Also had a lethal howitzer that went high over Fleury. Maybe he’ll turn this around and live up to the potential.
- Marcel Goc, one assist, 67 percent in the circle. Sure, his helper on Kulikov’s goal was fine, but winning 2 of 3 faceoffs kept Pittsburgh off balance.
Others were great, too. Erik Gudbranson sliding to make a block was just courageous and shows what a tough kid he is, and Mike Weaver was a plus-5. The PK killed off all three Pens power plays, making it 28 straight and 42 of their last 43 on the road. More importantly, the team stayed within the game plan and didn’t stray from it once the Penguins cut the lead to 3-1. Pittsburgh never was able to put together that “Five Minutes of Hell” I expected.
Mike Weaver, who was a plus-5, tweeted this after the game:
The goal in Buffalo: Score on the power play, get a marker from Flash and play with the intensity from tonight that will help the Cats come away with two more points.
Which wouldn’t be the way it was expected to go down when this 3-game road trip started.