Originally posted on NHL Hot Stove  |  Last updated 12/14/11

By Bill Whitehead

The second meeting at the BankAtlantic Center between the New Jersey Devils and Florida Panthers was supposed to be a bounce-back game for the Cats — you know, that quick turnaround match where a team shows what it’s made of. Florida was looking to regroup after arguably its worst performance of the season in a 6-1 loss to the Rangers Sunday night at Madison Square Garden.

But a pair of myths were shattered — at least from Florida’s perspective — at the BAC in ex-Cats coach Pete DeBoer’s second visit to his former office:

The back-to-back fatigue factor: This may be the most overemphasized, least significant intangible in the league. For the second consecutive contest, the Panthers faced a team playing the second game of a back-to-back scenario with the first game on the road. While the Panthers were frolicking in a Central Park morning skate last Saturday, the Rangers were upstate preparing to eventually beat Buffalo. The next night was yet another win for the Rangers, trouncing Florida in a contest that was anything but a contest. New York easily dispatched of Florida, who outside of Erik Gudbranson’s first career goal, did little right.

Tuesday presented a similar situation. On Monday, New Jersey led both early and late, but had to hold on in the waning seconds of a 5-4 win in Tampa. Sure, the Devils saved starting goalie Martin Brodeur for Florida, but finally returning home after a long road trip and having an extra day of rest facing a team who had played 24 hours earlier should have worked in Florida’s favor, right? Wrong. The fatigue factor is overrated at this level. These aren’t pee-wee players who need a juice box and some cookies for an energy boost, they’re the world’s elite hockey players who can somehow find a way to play games on consecutive nights — often winning both games.

Having a team’s number: If you happened upon the final 50 minutes of the game between the Devils and Panthers on Nov. 21, you would have guessed that Florida had the number of DeBoer’s new team. After giving up three goals early, the Cats dominated the rest of the game, closing it out by holding New Jersey to just three shots a third period that included the Devils having a two-man advantage for 1:05.

But if you watched last night you noticed a complete turnaround. While Florida was good for the first 30 minutes, New Jersey dominated thereafter. In the third, the Panthers mustered just one shot, basically becoming what the Devils were in the final period of the first meeting. The Devils pinned Florida deep in its own end and forced the action, while the Cats appeared to run out of gas and played on its collective heels. In this parity-driven state the NHL is currently in — a good thing, no doubt — it’s difficult for one club to consistently dominate another over a long stretch of time or even a season.

The Panthers (16-9-6) didn’t undergo a complete disaster and were a little lucky, too. The club managed to put a point in the bank, which almost didn’t happen, but Petr Sykora inexplicably sent the potential game-winning goal wide with five seconds left. Florida could also rejoice in moving one more point ahead of the Capitals, who were hammered 5-1 in another bad showing by Tomas Vokoun. Additionally, Florida has three straight home games against an average Calgary, a Jeff Skinner-less, mediocre Carolina and a pretty solid Phoenix. Those things are encouraging.

But Tuesday night at the BAC?

Don’t call it a bounce-back.

By Bill Whitehead
NHLHS Florida Panthers Credentialed Correspondent
Twitter: @BillWhiteheadFL
Email: BillWhiteheadFL@hotmail.com


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