The Florida Panthers have reanimated their playoffs hopes with two unlikely road wins, but must achieve two likely wins at home to get sufficient momentum in the standings.
Achieve two likely wins?
It's not a typo. If there's one thing the Panthers have exhibited this season, it's the ability to lose when they shouldn't and win at the most illogical times.
The big cats were all but eliminated after a disappointing late-season slide found them losing five of six games, one of which cost them a sure berth in the post-season. Sporadic -- and unpredictable -- bursts of good play kept them steady just under the cut, but the past two surprise victories have put the Panthers in charge of their own destiny [music swells].
The Panthers' shift from "extinct" to "protected" can be traced to backup goalie Craig Anderson. After starter Tomas Vokoun gave up three goals in a third-period meltdown in Buffalo last week, Anderson got the nod and 40 saves in a 4-2 win over Philly. He followed that up with 32 saves against the Stars, giving Florida wins in two consecutive games for the first time since February. Must have been the shirtless lady, huh, Craig?
Tonight, Florida faces Ottowa at home. The Panthers have announced that Anderson, who makes nearly 10 times less than Vokoun, will get the start. Stellar play -- when he can get it -- at bargain prices means that Anderson will likely move on after he becomes a free agent at the end of the season, but for now he's staring down the Senators. "The guys are counting on me to do my job,'' Anderson said. "I just show up and put up a good effort.''
Ottowa should be a pushover, as they simply kill time eight points out of the last playoff spot. Friday the Panthers face Atlanta, who languish in rebuilding. But this season's been a little too topsy-turvey to consider any victories guaranteed.