KANATA – It’s no secret this piece of earth outside Ottawa that Scotiabank Place rests upon has not always been kind to the Panthers. In fact, they’ve left this city all four times in the past two years beaten and frustrated.
But after leaving Montreal without any points Monday evening despite playing 60 strong minutes, the Panthers made sure they returned Thursday to South Florida with two points and a solid performance to build on this weekend.
Behind two goals in the opening 5:33 from Rostislav Olesz and Nathan Horton and several huge saves by goaltender Craig Anderson in the final three minutes, the Panthers beat the Senators 3-1 and continue exorcising demons from the past.
Holding a two-goal lead late in the game, David Booth received a double minor for high sticking with 3:03 remaining in regulation. But behind Anderson’s goaltending – including a sliding, glove-stretching save on Antoine Vermette with 1:09 remaining – the Panthers held on to even their record at 3-3 as they prepare for back-to-back games this weekend.
“It’s a huge win for us,” said Panther forward Stephen Weiss. “It’s especially nice to get the monkey off our backs since we haven’t won here in a while. And, obviously, Andy was big for us tonight. It was one of those nights when he was on.”
It was also huge because, unlike in years past, the Panthers didn’t lose confidence in the final minutes with the lead, even after Booth’s penalty. Weiss admitted in years past, “Maybe we lose that game.”
Does that mean this year’s model is brimming with confidence?
“I can’t speak for everyone,” Weiss said. “But as you win games, and we won this game, you get confident that you’ll hang in and get the win. After a while it becomes second nature. It doesn’t even pop into your head.”
Coach Peter DeBoer admitted it wasn’t a “textbook way to hold the lead from a coaching perspective,” but he was pleased with the Panthers’ effort.
“We wanted to have a quick start and the start won us the game,” DeBoer said. “I thought even in the second (period) we played well. In the third we sat back and ran out of gas. They cranked it up a notch. I don’t know what the answer was, but our goalie made some big saves. He was outstanding.”
The Panthers came ready to play and the first period was as close to perfect as they could have hoped, scoring two goals in the opening 5:33, holding the Senators to three shots, and having an Ottawa power play goal waved off with only 3.5 seconds remaining in the period.
The Panthers started quick when Olesz scored his first goal on the season at 4:45 of the first period off a strong forecheck by linemates Radek Dvorak and Gregory Campbell.
Then it was Horton’s turn. Horton scored his second of the season just 33 seconds later when he snapped a wrist shot over Martin Gerber’s glove that the Senator goalie never had a shot on.
The Panthers stayed aggressive, used their speed, and found their own luck. And when Daniel Alfredsson appeared to score on the power play with 3.5 seconds remaining in the period, it was ruled a high stick and the Panthers took a 2-0 lead into the lockerroom.
The two-goal lead turned to only one at 2:23 of the second period when Alfredsson finally got his power play goal. But the Panthers got the two-goal advantage back at 11:57 of the second period when Cory Stillman back-handed the puck past Gerber from in close off a nice pass by Brett McLean to make it 3-1.
The Senators came at the Panthers hard in the third period, taking 26 shots at Anderson in the final 20 minutes. But with the Panthers down a man and the Senators coming at them with six skaters, Anderson stopped a deflection by Nick Foligno from in close and then stretched his glove to snare a shot by Vermette in the final seconds. Earlier in the period he shutdown a wrap-around attempt by Chris Neil and poked-checked the puck off Vermette’s stick.
“We played well tonight,” said Anderson, who stopped 41 shots. “We played the system, worked hard, and it paid off.”
The Panthers returned to South Florida to prepare for Friday’s game at BankAtlantic Center against the Sharks before turning around for a game Saturday in St. Louis.
“We needed a win,” DeBoer said, “and I think the guys showed up ready to play.”