SUNRISE – The Panthers didn’t steal a point Friday night before a rocking crowd at BankAtlantic Center.
In fact, it could be argued they deserved a better fate.
Despite being down to the Eastern Conference-leading Rangers 2-0 just 2:39 into the game, the Panthers came back twice – once from a two-goal deficit and again from a one-goal deficit with only 1:33 remaining in regulation – before losing 4-3 in a shootout before a crowd of 18,109.
The Panthers ended a three-game homestand taking four of six points as they continued what’s been a slow but steady climb from the bottom of the division.
“We’re not giving up,” said defenseman Jassen Cullimore, who had four hits.
“That’s as hard as we can play,” said coach Peter DeBoer. “I think if you look at the lineups on paper going into the game we probably didn’t have any business being on the ice with them. Our guys, though, through guts and will, I thought, played a really good game.”
The Panthers competed hard throughout the night. They never backed down and never sat back. And after the Rangers took a 3-2 lead at 7:04 of the third period, David Booth, for the second consecutive game, sent the match into overtime by scoring with under two minutes in regulation.
Booth, who scored with less than eight seconds remaining in regulation Wednesday against the Devils, scored Friday with 1:33 left in regulation.
Gathering in a pass from Radek Dvorak, Booth managed to shoot the puck past Rangers’ goalie Henrik Lundqvist while being draped by defenseman Wade Redden.
“Radek made a great pass,” Booth said.
While they took the game to a shootout Friday evening – something they couldn’t accomplish Wednesday – it was the Rangers who left with two points on goals from Markus Naslund and Nikolai Zherdev, who is four-for-seven in shootouts this season.
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Rostislav Olesz scored the Panthers’ lone goal in the shootout. Lundqvist got a piece of a Stephen Weiss shot with his glove while Michael Frolik, who played alongside Booth and Weiss in Nathan Horton’s absence, missed the net.
DeBoer said he thought about using Booth (8 shots, three hits) in the shootout, but “I don’t think many of his goals have come on breakaways.”
“You have to go with your gut,” he added. “There’s no right answer. We do shootout competitions in practice and we make those decisions and you can second guess yourself, but at the end of the day you have to get a save, too.”
After giving up two goals on the first four shots he faced, Panthers’ goalie Craig Anderson stopped 43 of the next 44 shots in regulation and overtime.
The Panthers got off to a quick start with Weiss, Booth and Frolik buzzing the Rangers’ end on the opening shift. But Zherdev banged a rebound past Anderson 1:53 into the game and, just 46 seconds later, Dan Fritsche beat Anderson.
Anderson regrouped. “You can’t worry about what happened in the past,” he said.
But two goals in 2:39 put the Panthers in a tough spot.
“We’ve got to get some saves at key times,” DeBoer said. “We’re not a good enough team that we can give up a bad goal a night. That’s been happening too much lately.”
But as they did Wednesday evening against the Devils when coming back from a two-goal deficit – although they waited 57 minutes into that game to begin their comeback – the Panthers slowly climbed back from the hole.
The Panthers’ first goal came at 12:32 of the first when Ville Peltonen slid the puck from behind the net to the front where it bounced off Dvorak’s skate and past Lundqvist.
The Panthers played a strong second period and they were rewarded at 18:57 on the power play when Stephen Weiss won the faceoff in the Ranger end and got the puck back to the point to Jay Bouwmeester, who blasted the puck past a crowd in front of Lundqvist to tie the game.
It was Aaron Voros who put the Rangers ahead 3-2 in the third when he beat Anderson with a wrist shot from the slot to the glove side.
The Panthers had a huge opportunity to tie the game and possibly go ahead before Booth’s heroics midway through the third period when they had a 5-on-3 man advantage for 1:47 seconds.
But Lundqvist stopped four shots during the power play, the best two being off a Bryan McCabe shot from the point and the rebound from Weiss. Kamil Kreps fanned on the puck while standing off to the side of the net, and the Panthers wasted valuable time on a Bouwmeester giveaway.
But from a team trying to build confidence and momentum before a two-game road trip Sunday in New York against these Rangers and Tuesday against the Southeast Division-leading Capitals, it was a step in the right direction.
“It’s tough sometimes because you can get down in games like that, when you’re playing well but not getting success on the scoreboard,” Cullimore added. “But we kept plugging away. A lot of it’s mental. We just keep doing what we’re doing right and fixing what we’re not doing right…and it’s working for us.”
The Panthers leave tomorrow afternoon for New York and Sunday’s 1 p.m., at Madison Square Garden.
Nick Tarnasky, acquired Thursday from Nashville, played on the wing with Shawn Matthias and Anthony Stewart. He logged 5:36 before remaining on the bench in the third period… Shawn Matthias, called up Friday morning from the Panthers' American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate in Rochester, played 5:42 and also sat on the bench in the third period... The Panthers were 0-for-4 on the power play. Their struggles shouldn’t be a surprise with Cory Stillman, Horton and Richard Zednik out of the lineup… Nick Boynton was back in the lineup after missing the previous two games… Noah Welch was a healthy scratch…
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