The Florida Panthers have dispatched some of the most talented teams in hockey this postseason, but this club still hungers for respect and desperately wants to avoid being swept in the Stanley Cup finals by Colorado.
"On one hand we feel we earned respect from other players in the league, and that's gratifying, but there is still that Rodney Dangerfield stigma with the media and some people outside of hockey," defenseman Gord Murphy said Sunday. "There seems no way we can escape that."Florida never thought it would be three games in the hole to Colorado after handling Boston, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh en route to the finals. But the Avalanche has outplayed the Panthers defensively and offensively.
Game 4 is tonight at the Miami Arena, and the Avalanche hope to be hoisting hockey's most exalted prize in a four-game sweep. Yet the Panthers would like nothing better than to silence their media critics in Colorado who have suggested they don't deserve to be playing in the finals.
"They have the Stanley Cup on the line, we have got a lot of pride on the line," Panthers captain Brian Skrudland said.
Colorado has scored 14 goals in three games, one less than Pittsburgh scored against Florida in seven games in the Eastern Conference finals. Avalanche goaltender Patrick Roy has also outshined Panthers star John Vanbiesbrouck.
"Whether they were wrist shots or slap shots, they seemed to be getting blocked," defenseman Jason Woolley said after Saturday's 3-2 loss in Game 3. "It was like they had two or three goalies out there. It's definitely frustrating."
Florida faces the daunting task of trying to become only the second team to come back from 3-0 deficit in the Stanley Cup finals. Toronto did it in 1942 against Detroit. And only one other club in NHL playoff history has rebounded from such a hole. The New York Islanders did it against Pittsburgh in the 1975 quarterfinals.
"I think stats aren't always right," Panthers rookie defenseman Ed Jovanovski said. "You can't go by them, you never know what can happen. We're just going to go out and play with all we've got and just hope for the best. Hopefully, it brings the best out of us when our backs are against the wall."
Yet, Jovanovski knows one thing: "Nobody remembers losers."
Florida had hoped a return to the Miami Arena for Game 3, with its rat-throwing fans, would rekindle its magic. But the lucky bounces and the deflected goals just aren't coming.