Today is one of my favorite days of the year.
It's NFL Championship Sunday.
I love the Super Bowl, who doesn't?, but today is where the real excitement is. Who is going to make the big game? We'll know in a few hours.
I like the Saints and the Colts, although I don't really care who wins.
As long as it isn't the Jets.
Although I think Rex Ryan's Super Bowl press conferences would be an absolute riot.
-- Big night for Kenndal McArdle on Saturday, eh?
McArdle made a triumphant return from the injured list on Saturday as the Panthers rookie scored his first NHL goal against his hometown team as friends and family throughout Canada watched on television.
When McArdle walked into the locker room after Saturday's 2-0 win over Toronto, he took off his sweat-soaked jersey, took a swig of Gatorade and sat at his locker stall smiling waiting for the media to pay a visit.
“There isn't anything greater than scoring your first NHL goal in a game your team won,'' he said. “I'm just really happy to get the win and obviously to get that goal. We wanted to take it to them. We needed that second goal and I was glad to get it for us.''
Coach Pete DeBoer loves McArdle's work ethic and passion for the game and seems to be honestly rooting for him to succeed. It has taken McArdle a while to get to this level – the Panthers picked him 20th overall at the Sidney Crosby draft inside an Ottawa hotel in 2005 – and he bounced from the minors to the Panthers over the past three seasons.
McArdle was a fill in for the Panthers last year and only appeared in three games. This year, he was one of the last cuts. A big scorer in junior hockey, McArdle was told when the Panthers sent him to the minors that he needed to play a harder-nosed game, and not only accept a role as a third or fourth line player but embrace it.
McArdle wasn't happy when he was cut in October and told DeBoer that he would be back.
He kept good on his promise – but also came back ready to do the things the Panthers wanted him to. He was recalled on Oct. 28 and played in 16 games before suffering a shoulder injury while fighting Nov. 28 in Nashville. After almost two months of rehab, McArdle returned Saturday on a retooled fourth line with Shawn Matthias and Nick Tarnasky.
“He's been working hard, being in the gym and getting back in shape,'' said Keith Ballard. “I didn't envy him, seeing him on the ice. [Coach Mike] Kitchen puts them through the ringer pretty good. It's tough. A lot tougher than playing in a game. It's good to see him back and have some success.''
McArdle's brought energy and plenty of passion to his shifts. With the Florida offense stuck in neutral, the Panthers could use his line to produce a little. If he were to start putting in pucks like he once did, the Panthers probably wouldn't object.
“He gave us some great minutes and was a shot of energy when that fourth line was out there,'' DeBoer said Saturday. “We have to find a fourth line that can contribute and change momentum. .-.-. Great goal for him. He took the long road to the NHL. But he's earned his job up here.''
After playing in games against the Devils and Rangers on successive nights, rookies Jason Garrison and Victor Oreskovich were sent to the team's AHL affiliate in Rochester, N.Y.
The Americans kicked off the first of three games in three nights on Friday and Garrison and Oreskovich were in the lineup.
The two also played Saturday night and were expected to be in the lineup Sunday as well.
That's five professional games in five nights. And while Garrison and Oreskovich didn't play huge minutes with the Panthers, they are logging heavy time with the Amerks.
-- The Panthers could call up another forward from Rochester on Monday depending on the severity of Steven Reinprecht's injury. Reinprecht left Saturday's game after getting hit in the skate area by a Dennis Seidenberg shot.
Jeff Taffe, who is a center, is a possibility. He scored two goals with an assist for the Amerks on Saturday. Winger Michal Repik (14 goals, 16 assists) is also an option as is Oreskovich.
-- Enjoy the football.
See you tomorrow.
-- Don't forget, you can follow me on Twitter. Let me warn you, I post stupid ramblings on there at times. Will have my thoughts on the football today as well. Check 'er out. It's free.