Exciting Hockey in South Florida Has Been a Long Time Coming: Fan’s Take

The wins just keep coming for the Florida Panthers, who stopped their two-game losing streak with a 3-1 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday, Nov. 29 at the RBC Center in Raleigh, North Carolina. The win has the 13-7-4 Panthers solidly in first-place in the Southeast Division through the season's first 24 games—five points ahead of the second-place 12-10-1 Washington Capitals—and with only the 14-7-4 Pittsburgh Penguins ahead of them in the Eastern Conference.

A year ago Florida fans could only dream of their team being where they are now, and it still seems a bit amazing they're doing what they're doing. However, the rebuilding of the franchise by general manager Dale Tallon, who built the Chicago Blackhawks into an elite squad in the Western Conference, isn't all that surprising to some. Tallon has done things the right way, and assembled a squad that is young, talented, and well-balanced.

That youth, talent, and balance helped spoil Kirk Muller's debut as the Hurricanes new head coach, and could very easily at this point propel the Panthers into the postseason for the first time in over a decade.

A very young 6 foot 4 inches, 225-pound center Shawn Matthias(notes) was responsible on Tuesday for the winning goal over Carolina, scoring with just 3:19 left in the game with a bank shot off a pass from Tomas Kopecky(notes) that got past goalie Cam Ward(notes) to break a 1-1 tie with the Hurricanes. Matthias then added an empty-net goal within the final minute to end all scoring.

The talented veteran 6 foot 1 inch, 192-pound left-winger Tomas Fleischmann(notes) started off the scoring when he slapped in a goal from behind the circle that got by Ward over the top at 10:45 minutes into the second period to give Florida a 1-0 lead. However, it was probably goaltender Jose Theodore(notes) who most deserves the credit for the win and showed the balance of the Panthers squad, as he made 26 saves in a game Florida didn't even play their best (getting only two shots on goal in the first period) but still came out on top.

"If I'm [a] player with a new coach, I'm going to come out with a ton of jump, and they did," Florida coach Kevin Dineen said afterward in reference to Carolina's enthusiasm to try and win the game for their new leader. "That one was not our finest effort. It wasn't our worst effort. It was one of those games where you find a way, and we found a way tonight."

That, in a nutshell has been the Panthers' 2011-12 season so far. They've found ways to get it done night in and night out, and that is a testament to both Dineen's leadership and the type of team Tallon has built for him.

Next up for Florida will be a very formidable 12-8-4 Los Angeles Kings squad on Thursday, Dec. 1 at Staples Center. The Kings took down the San Jose Sharks 2-0 on Monday, Nov. 28 to stop a two-game losing streak of their own, and will be looking to build on that victory when they face-off against the Panthers.

However, I'm confident the Florida squad I love so much will give them all they can handle. After all, the Panthers have one of the best road records in the NHL at 8-5-0, and the Kings' six losses at home so far this year don't bode well for them in this matchup.

Still, whatever happens in that contest, I'm just happy I'm finally finding hockey in South Florida exciting again. It's been a long time coming.

Goal!

More from Yahoo! Contributor Network:

Florida Panthers Fans Now Look Forward to Watching Hockey

Florida Panthers a Very Well-Balanced Team

Panthers Causing Some Excitement in South Florida

General Manager Dale Tallon Hits Reset Button on Florida Panthers

All stats and information taken from personal notes and verified at Hockey-Reference.com, NHL.com, and Yahoo! Sports.

Read more by Daniel Barber aka Hotnuke at TFS Sports.

*Daniel Barber has been a fan of all Miami teams since he was a child or since their inception having been born right above Miami.

Sources:

Hockey-Reference.com

NHL.com

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Updated Wednesday, Nov 30, 2011