It was a hockey game that gave rise to one of the most famous calls in sports broadcasting history: “Do you believe in miracles!?”
In the same sport, the Florida Panthers may be on the verge of making their fans wonder about a different question: Do you believe in curses?
Might the Panthers actually lose in the first round of the NHL playoffs ... again!? After the best regular season by a lot in franchise history? With the league’s highest-scoring team in 26 years?
Those are the questions coming at Cats fans like a puck to the chest after Saturday’s 5-l loss at the Washington Capitals left the Panthers down 2 games to 1 in the best-of-seven series with Game 4 back in D.C. Monday night.
Curses aren’t real, of course (are they), but the Panthers reached the Stanley Cup Final in only their third season of existence in 1996 and it seems to have been payback ever since. The club has never since advanced past the first round of the playoffs. It’s been six tries. This would make it 0-for-7.
To avoid that Florida must now win three of the next four games or the club will have a much-longer-than-expected offseason to fathom what went wrong. Winning from a 2-1 hole won’t quite take a miracle, but, based on this series’ first three games, it’s a big ask.
“Playoffs aren’t easy. It’s always hard,” Panthers interim coach Andrew Brunette had said Saturday prior to the game. “We just have to establish our game. We haven’t overly done it yet. We’re capable of a little bit more.”
He could have said the same after a frustrating afternoon that left his Cats still searching for the mojo that had them dominant during the regular season.
Florida led 1-0 three minutes into the game, muting the home crowd before it had even settled in, when Jonathan Huberdeau’s slapshot found the high-right of the net.
It was the perfect start.
“The lead’s really important for us.” Brunette had noted.
But not important enough to hold onto. At least not Saturday.
The physical, hard-hitting Capitals struck back with a vengeance.
Washington tied it just 26 seconds before the first period ended on T.J. Oshie’s power-play goal after MacKenzie Weegar had been sent off.
It was 3-1 after a pair of goals in the second period. Marcus Johansson put back a carom that Sergei Bobrovsky had deflected. Then a minute before the period ended Trevor van Riemsdyk made it 3-1 after the Capitals ad swiped the puck from Weegar in his own end.
It was out of hand at 4-1 mid-third period on a tally by Alex Ovechkin, an aging star, a dirty player who kept cross-checking Panthers in the back Saturday without penalty but still a gifted scorer
The fifth goal was John Carlson’s into an open net after Florida pulled Bobrovsky with four minutes left. The goalie was back in after the ploy backfired. The sixth was Garnet Hathaway’s in the final minute off a Bobrovsky deflection.
That Brunette thought, in briefly pulling his goalie, that his team could score with a man advantage was a bit ironic, because the power play failed the Panthers Saturday as it has all series.
While two of the Capitals’ goals were on power plays, Florida was 0-for-3 abd is now 0-for-9 in the series with a man advantage. In the regular season Florida was third in the NHL in power play goals (64) and fourth in highest PP percentage (24.43).
But that well had dried thus far this postseason — one that will end much too soon unless the Panthers find answers fast.