In one game on one night – in the span of 13:21 – the Panthers and Richard Zednik crafted an ending even the folks at Disney might have had trouble selling.
A bit Pollyanna, perhaps?
Not for these Panthers.
Down 4-1 with 12:13 remaining in regulation, the Panthers staged a franchise-record comeback before Zednik, who a year to the day nearly lost his life in a freak accident, scored the game-winner at 1:08 in overtime to give the Panthers a 5-4 victory over the Maple Leafs at an ecstatic BankAtlantic Center.
Zednik, who also scored the game-tying goal, was undergoing emergency surgery on Feb. 10 of last season at Buffalo General Hospital after having his neck lacerated and carotid artery nearly severed when he was hit by a teammate’s skate at HSBC Arena. A year later he was scoring the game winning goal in a crucial Panther victory.
“It’s amazing,” said Zednik, who has four goals in his last six games. “Exactly one year and I get the game winning goal.”
But Zednik wasn’t the only story on this remarkable night. The victory marked the first time in the Panthers’ 15-year history they came back to win a game after being down by three goals.
“These guys did something pretty exceptional,” said Panthers’ coach Peter DeBoer, who jumped back over Carolina for the eighth playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with a game in hand.
“Again, our resiliency showed,” DeBoer added. “It’s a character group of guys. There’s no panic on the bench when we get down.”
Not even when they were down 4-1 with the clock ticking on the third period. But just 26 seconds after Nik Antropov gave the Maple Leafs a 4-1 lead, Nathan Horton scored his 14th goal of the season to make it 4-2 and put life back into the Panthers.
“At 4-2 we still believed we could come back because there was plenty of time,” Zednik said.
“It seems after they scored the fourth goal we started to relax a little bit and started to play our game – put the puck deep and jump on their defense,” said Radek Dvorak.
“It was not fun being down 4-1,” Horton recalled. “We weren’t saying too much. Once we got the goal all four lines started going.”
The Maple Leafs, who had blown a 3-1 third period lead a week earlier against the Panthers in Toronto, were suddenly back on their heels. Just 2:35 after Horton scored, Ville Peltonen banged a rebound past Toronto goalie Vesa Toskala to make it 4-3.
Tonight’s Mayors Jewelers Three Star Selections of the Game are:
1st: Richard Zednik 2nd: Niklas Hagman 3rd: Nick Boynton
Mayors is the Official Jeweler of the Florida Panthers, please visit www.mayors.com or your local South Florida Mayors location.
The Panthers “stuck with it,” Horton said, and it was Zednik who sent the game into overtime when he found a rebound from a Kamil Kreps shot sitting in front of Toskala and wristed it into the net.
The final scene was all Zednik, taking a pass from the left wing from Cory Stillman and firing a one-timer past Toskala to set off a frenzy at BankAtlantic Center.
“He’s playing so well,” said Dvorak of Zednik.
“For (Zednik) to come back and even be able to play hockey right now is awesome,” added David Booth.
“It’s a great story,” said DeBoer of Zednik. “You just wonder if you were in that position yourself, it would be pretty easy to just put your feet up and retire and never play again. He showed a lot of character even coming back this year, and I think he’s starting to hit his stride now and get more comfortable out there.”
Despite being down 4-1 in the third period, the Panthers came out pretty strong in the first period. But Toskala, recently criticized by both GM Brian Burke and coach Ron Wilson, made huge saves in the first 10 minutes on Stillman, Booth and Zednik to keep the game scoreless.
Toskala was rewarded at 10:31 of the first period when former Panther Niklas Hagman jammed the puck past goalie Tomas Vokoun to give the Leafs a 1-0 lead.
The Panthers tied the game at 3:13 of the second when Kreps took a shot on goal from just above the goal line that hit Brett McLean on the arm and bounced past Toskala.
But the Leafs went into their dressing room up 3-1 when they scored two goals 1:39 apart late in the second period. First, Jamal Mayers slid the puck between Vokoun’s pads at 16:50. Then, with Horton in the penalty box for tripping, Hagman scored his second goal of the night during a scramble in front of Vokoun.
The Panthers were right back where they were last Tuesday in Toronto, trailing the Maple Leafs 3-1 going into the final 20 minutes. But as they did on that evening, when Bryan McCabe scored in overtime, the Panthers left the rink with two points.
The Panthers were 0-16-4 a week ago when trailing after two periods. They’re now 2-0 when trailing after 40 minutes in the past seven days and 10-3-3 overall since January 3.
Regarding the third period comeback, DeBoer said; “We talked about it between the second and the third. We’ve been in this position before. I think we have a confidence level that we know that the games not over yet and we just need a bounce.”
The Panthers hope the bounces keep coming their way the rest of the week. They play Thursday at Carolina against the Southeast Division-rival Hurricanes before coming back home to play host Friday to the Rangers.
Gregory Campbell had seven hits…Stephen Weiss registered the 200th point of his career in the third period by assisting on Horton’s goal…Keith Ballard was a plus-3…The Leafs Jamal Mayers won nine of 10 faceoffs…
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