Carolina Hurricanes' Tuomo Ruutu, (15) moves the puck on Florida Panthers' Magnus Johansson (6) during the first period of an NHL hockey game Thursday, March 20, 2008, in Sunrise, Fla. (AP Photo/Luis M. Alvarez)
By Dave Joseph for floridapanthers.com
They had their chances.
Man, did they have their chances.
The Panthers wouldn’t argue that point late Thursday evening after pulling a point out of their 2-1 shootout loss to Carolina at BankAtlantic Center. They wouldn’t argue that, despite firing 37 shots at 2006 Conn Smythe Trophy winner Cam Ward – despite clanging the puck off the pipes, missing an open net and watching Ward play acrobat – they couldn’t bury their chances.
Despite the loss, the Panthers remain in the playoff race. They’re now just three points behind Philadelphia for the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference and only four points behind seventh-place Boston, which lost Thursday to Montreal.
“Obviously, we wanted two points in regulation,” said defenseman Cory Murphy. “That was our number one goal. We came up short. Now we have got to start thinking all ready about Saturday.”
That’s when Tampa visits the BankAtlantic Center. That’s when the Panthers, who watched their seven-game win streak snapped Thursday, will attempt to get a point in their ninth consecutive game.
“There’s a lot of positives to take from this game,” David Booth said.
One is the effort. Although the Panthers were slow to start – they were outshot 10-2 in the opening minutes – they did come back after Trevor Letowski beat Panther goalie Tomas Vokoun at 3:21 of the opening period with a wrist shot from just inside the blue line that knuckled into the net.
The Panthers fired 16 shots at Ward in the second period and had three consecutive power plays against the league’s 30th ranked penalty killing unit. But the Panthers struggled on this night against Carolina’s penalty kill and Ward made several big saves.
"Overall it was a really good hockey game. Both teams battled hard. One-one after 65 minutes, I think both teams had a lot of chances. Both goalies played really well."
-Captain Olli Jokinen
Stat of the Game
Panthers netminder Tomas Vokoun was busy between the pipes once again, facing 42 shots during regulation and overtime. It was the 15th time this season he's faced more than 40 shots and the 10th time he's made 40 or more saves.
Murphy said Carolina made it hard on the power play in the neutral zone.
“They plugged it up pretty good,” Murphy said.
When Ward wasn’t robbing Olli Jokinen in the second period, Jokinen was hitting the post or Gregory Campbell was sliding the puck just past an open net.
Ward was just as good in the shootout. While he stopped Nathan Horton and Stephen Weiss, Vokoun was beat by on the backhand by Sergei Samsonov and, for the game-winner, by Eric Staal, whose shot trickled painfully slow through Vokoun’s pads.
“(Ward) was really good,” Jokinen said. “In the second period he made some big saves. They have a lot of speed, a lot of skill, and their goalie saved the game.”
Added Murphy: “We had a lot of chances. They just didn’t go in. They got lucky in the shootout to get a couple goals. (Ward) made some really good saves, some second and third saves. He’s a great goalie. We had bodies in front of the net, we got rebounds. He just played a great game.”
GM and coach Jacques Martin said, after a rough start, he liked the way his team played.
“The effort was there,” Martin said. “The first goal took us out a bit, but in the second period we dominated. Ward played very good. It was a close hockey game. We had some great chances but we just couldn’t put it in.
“At least we gain a point. We’ve got to regroup now and come back Saturday night with a win.”
The Panthers have seven games remaining. After playing host Saturday to the Lightning, the Panthers will travel Tuesday to Tampa before playing their final home games of the season Thursday against Atlanta and Saturday against Washington. They close the season with a three-game trip to Atlanta, Carolina and Washington.
The Bruins, who have eight games remaining, play Ottawa, Buffalo and Toronto twice each and Montreal and New Jersey once each. The Flyers play two games each against the Rangers, Devils, Penguins and Islanders. The Sabres, a point behind Philly for the eighth spot, play Boston, Montreal, Toronto and Ottawa twice each.
The Panthers, however, realize their best hope is to win out.
“We have to look ahead,” Jokinen said.
“Tampa is going to be fired up,” Booth said. “It’s going to be a big battle for us.”