Despite the OT loss, the Blues looked pretty good against one of the best teams in the East. Heck, even our PP looked decent. The Florida road trip now dips further south to Sunrise, FL. In contrast to Tampa, the Panthers have struggled in building both a winning team and a sizable fan base. Aside from one magical season early in the franchise's history, there hasn't been much to attract locals to the game. Certainly, there's a connection between missing the playoffs for 9 seasons straight, and only averaging about 15,100 fans a game. It's reflected in the TV ratings as well: Florida ranks dead last in local viewership averaging about 3,000 households per broadcast (St Louis cracked the top 5, in terms of ratings). This reminded me of the lyrics that I hope come true: "visitors score on the home rink, everything seems to be wrong... 20 degrees and the hockey game's on, nobody cares - they are way too far gone..."
The Enemy: I'm sure Blues assistant coach Scott Mellanby has fond memories of Florida, especially that out-of-left-field 1995-96 season. Who can forget the "rat trick"?? Since then, though, Florida has not been a very good team. Even now, they sit last in their division and 11th in the Eastern Conference. This is a game that the Blues should win, BUT, this is also the classic trap game: as soon as you think that you can't lose - you do. The Panther's symmetrical record of 23-23-6 is also reflected in their team goals-for/goals against of 140-141. The Panthers are coming off of an OT win against New Jersey on Friday, so they are looking to build off of that for their homestand. They are led in scoring by Stephen Weiss (15G/21A) and Mike Santorelli (14G/14A), and I'd also keep an eye on Michael Frolik and David Booth, who also have 28 points each. One consistent strong point for Florida over the years has been goaltending, and that still holds true. They are led by Tomas Vokoun (2.54 GAA/ .920 Sv%), although they may start backup Scott Clemmensen (2.46/ .920) against an out-of-conference opponent. Also, we get to see old friends Mike Weaver, Dennis Wideman, and Marty Reasoner.
Blues vs Panthers coverage
We're on Eastern time, so the puck drops at 6:30 PM St Louis time. The broadcasts are on the usual outlets: FSMW for TV, and KMOX 1120AM for radio. The GDT should be available shortly beforehand. Until then, this is your pregame warmup. Gather here, huddle for warmth, mix your own boat drink, and enjoy a little tribute to the "rat trick"
Sheppard goal, rats 6/8/96 Finals (via vindiggs)