Happy game day! Pivotal Game 5 tonight, who ever wins gets a chance on Sunday to win their first playoff series in two decades and punch their ticket to face the Tampa Bay Lightning. These are exciting times.
The key to the victory in Game 4 though was the improved play of Roberto Luongo. It appears that the rest did indeed do him good. He looked dialed in and ready to roll. Now, we come to Game 5, without that rest and into a point of the series which has been a mixed bag for him historically. Luongo’s record in Game 5s is 4-5, not particularly awe inspiring. Four of these games were one-goal games, and three have gone to over time. His last Game 5 came in the 2011 Stanley Cup Final, when he bested Tim Thomas in a 1-0 duel. Obviously, we want something like that tonight, though preferably with more goal support.
Of course, nothing will ever top his most memorable Game 5 moment.
Toilet humor aside, we need to talk about the Panthers defense. In a word, it is performing very well in this series. This is especially true since Mike Matheson was inserted in the lineup and paired with Aaron Ekblad. These pairs are performing at exactly the level the Panthers need, small sample size and all:
My slash line template: CF% (CF60/CA60/RelCF%)
Mike Matheson and Aaron Ekblad Together – 61.8% (70.0/43.3/+12.1%)
Dmitry Kulikov and Erik Gudbranson Together – 62.7% (71.3/42.4/+12.9%)
Brian Campbell and Alex Petrovic Together – 55.3% (53.4/43.2/-1.75%)
The middle number in the slash line represents how many shot attempts given up per 60 minutes. Notice how those numbers are consistently around 42-43? That is some very good shot suppression. That is comparable to the kind of offensive force exerted by the New Jersey Devils, a team reknown for their lack of offensive prowess. The fact Gerard Gallant is able to reliably deploy a defensive pair that can put this up at all times is huge. The only issue from there is finding a way limit the damage the John Tavares line can do when they get their licks.
In addition, you are getting crazy shot generaiton when Matheson and Ekblad are on the ice, so too with Kulikov and Gudbranson. Typically a team will generate around 53 shot attempts per 60, or what Campbell and Petrovic are producing. Being up at 70 to 71 shot attempts is nuts. We’re talking upper echelon generation, the kind John Klingberg and Alex Goligoski had for Dallas during the regular season. You are getting that from not one, but two pairs. If the Panthers can continue to marry solid defense and offense like this, they stand a good chance at breaking through and carrying the day.