SUNRISE – The Panthers were down and being counted out late Wednesday evening at BankAtlantic Center when, suddenly, they rose from the dead.
Down 2-0 against the stingy Devils, the Panthers scored two goals in the final 2:19 of regulation to earn a point before losing 3-2 in overtime.
After sleepwalking through the first 20 minutes of the game, the Panthers somehow hung around long enough to take their third point in their last two games. They also managed to climb to within six points of second-place Carolina in the Southeast Division with two games in hand.
Jay Bouwmeester scored his first goal of the season at 17:41 of the third period before David Booth tied the game at two with eight second remaining in regulation by jamming home the rebound of a shot from Stephen Weiss.
Despite losing in overtime on a shot from Devils’ defenseman Johnny Oduya on a 2-on-1 break, the Panthers were looking at the positives and hoping to end the week Friday at BankAtlantic with a win over the Rangers and five of six points during the homestand.
“It was a great comeback,” said Panthers’ coach Peter DeBoer. “We showed resiliency and character. It wasn’t an easy night out there. Nothing seemed to be going right early, but we found a way to hang around and keep chipping away. The nice thing is we didn’t quit.”
Said defenseman Keith Ballard; “We got it going in the right direction.”
Mayors is the Official Jeweler of the Florida Panthers, please visit www.mayors.com or your local South Florida Mayors location.
Down 2-0 after 20 minutes, DeBoer lifted starting goalie Tomas Vokoun for Craig Anderson. “I didn’t like either of the first two goals (Vokoun allowed),” he said. “I didn’t like the way the team was playing, either. That combined with the start we had, I was hoping it would be a shot of life for our guys.”
How bad was the first period? The Panthers were outshot 12-4. After getting their first shot in the opening two minutes, the Panthers didn’t get their second shot until 15:12 of the opening period. Through 28 minutes, the Panthers were outshot 20-5.
“We just weren’t doing anything,” said Ballard of the Panthers’ start. “You can tell right from the start we weren’t doing anything. The puck’s in our end the whole time. We get it, we turn it over. We don’t have a forecheck, any sustained pressure, and we turn it over.”
And it cost the Panthers dearly.
With Kamil Kreps sitting in the penalty box at 5:33 of the first period, Brian Gionta redirected an Oduya shot past Vokoun for a 1-0 lead. The Devils made it 2-0 at 18:24 of the first period on a goal from Travis Zajac helped by a bad Panther line change.
The Panthers reappeared for the second period with Anderson in goal and things slowly improved. Anderson made some big saves during a early Devils’ power play and his teammates seemed to feed on that.
After Devils’ goalie Scott Clemmensen withstood 13 shots in the final 12 minutes of the second period, the Panthers came out for the third and continued chipping away. While a 50 second, 5-on-3 man advantage didn’t yield any results, the Panthers didn’t let down.
First, Bouwmeester sparked the flame by beating Clemmensen with a shot from the high slot. Then, with a sixth skater on the ice, Booth skated out of the corner as Weiss fired a shot at the Devils’ net. Clemmensen made the save, but Booth was there for the rebound.
“We won the battles down low and got the puck to the net,” Booth said. “I think it was better just kind of laying low off to the side of the net so no one picks you up. Weiss took the shot, rebound, I whacked at it and it went into the net.”
As for the comeback? “It’s definitely a good sign,” said Booth, who leads the team with 11 goals and has scored three of the Panthers’ last six goals. “We have to have better starts.”
Reiterated Ballard; “We’ve talked all year. We’re not good enough to play 40 minutes. We need 60.”
Weiss, who assisted on both Panther goals, said; “We’re making some strides. A few little things are hurting us right now in terms of turnovers. It’s costing us, but we’ll fix them as we go.”
The Panthers know they’ll have a packed and raucous crowd at BankAtlantic Center when the Rangers come to town Friday evening.
“Obviously, there’s areas we need to improve on,” DeBoer said. “The start wasn’t good, the first period wasn’t great. But we kept battling and that’s the important part.”
Nathan Horton suffered a cut on his ankle and played less than two minutes in the third period… Booth had four shots and four hits… Kamil Kreps won 10 of 16 faceoffs… Oduya’s winning goal glanced off the glove of Anderson. “Nine out of 10 times I have it,” Anderson said… Nick Boynton (concussion) was the Panthers’ only scratch… John Madden was out for the Devils with a bruised ankle…