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In praise of the Florida Panthers’ shameless late-game defense

Greg Wyshynski
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The annual talk about rules changes to juice scoring in the NHL always amuses us, because in the end coaches are going to find a way to subvert them.

You think the ringette line will be like catnip for aggressive forechecking? Perhaps … until a team has a third-period lead and goes into his shell like a turtle that stumbled into a Singapore soup kitchen.

The Florida Panthers have won five games in a row and are 6-1-1 overall in their last eight, giving them a 5-point cushion over the Washington Capitals in the Southeast Division with a game in-hand (and only one head-to-head matchup with the Capitals remaining, in Sunrise).

They're in the driver's seat for the No. 3 seed, and they're going to finish this race by any means necessary … even if it means forgetting about offensive hockey in the last 20 minutes of a game.

In their 2-1 at the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday night, the Panthers had three shots in the third period. From George Richards of On Frozen Pond:

Florida didn't hide its defensive game plan for much of the night as the Panthers played a gritty 'road' game in which it sat back and collapsed around the puck. The Panthers took just three shots in the third period and a season-low 13 for the night; Philadelphia was credited for 36 shots on goal and took aim at Clemmensen 62 times.

The Panthers have 30 combined shots on goal in their past two games — both wins. Florida has won just two of the 11 games in which it has surpassed the 40 shot plateau. "Shots on goal don't get you points,'' general manager Dale Tallon barked on the postgame elevator after a reporter mentioned the 30 shots in two games. "We played a great game.''

Ryan Meier at Litter Box Cats didn't think they turtled:

The Panthers did a great job in the third period pressuring the Flyers through neutral ice, pushing them back or forcing them to make difficult passes or just chop it into the zone. For almost six minutes the Panthers controlled the neutral zone and were fantastic defensively in preserving the lead. That's a much more effective (and less scary) way of holding a lead, rather than the turtling in the defensive zone as we've seen in past scenarios this season.

Bottom line: The Panthers have managed four shots or less in three of their last six third periods, going 2-0-1 in those games. Overall for the season, the Panthers are 25th in the NHL with a .793 winning percentage when leading after two periods, losing six times.

So, in summary: Embrace the shell. Oh, and get a lead, because they're 3-20-2 when trailing after two periods.

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