SUNRISE – The Panthers weren’t a happy group Thursday evening.
After piling up points the past three months by outplaying their opponents through an aggressive forecheck, the Panthers were exposed by a Blackhawks team that, on this night, mirrored the Panthers on most nights.
The result was a 4-0 Panther loss, only their second in nine games here at BankAtlantic Center. It was the first time the Panthers had been shutout since Dec. 6 (31 games) when losing to Boston 4-0.
Make no mistake, the Blackhawks are one of the top teams in the league and were helped greatly on this night by goalie Cristobal Huet, who stopped 31 Panthers shots including a couple beauties on Nathan Horton and David Booth.
Huet has had the Panthers number, coming into the game with a 5-2 lifetime mark against the Panthers with a 0.94 goals against average and .968 save percentage.
Despite the loss, the Panthers remain in seventh in the Eastern Conference ahead of eighth-place Buffalo, who lost 6-3 to Philadelphia.
But the Panthers would agree it wasn’t their best performance of the season.
“We got the deserved result,” Panther coach Peter DeBoer said.
“We didn’t play good today so we shouldn’t be surprised we didn’t pick up points,” said goalie Tomas Vokoun, who stopped 38 shots. “They outplayed us…that’s why we lost. We were doing that to other teams and that’s why we were winning. We just didn’t come out the way we should have.”
Tonight’s Mayors Jewelers Three Star Selections of the Game are:
1st: Cristobal Huet 2nd: Martin Havlat 3rd: Andrew Ladd
Mayors is the Official Jeweler of the Florida Panthers, please visit www.mayors.com or your local South Florida Mayors location.
The Blackhawks were fast and aggressive. “A tough team to trade rushes with,” said Anthony Stewart. Yet, the Panthers were “trying to trade rushing chances with them,” according to DeBoer.
That style of play cost the Panthers at 3:07 of the first period when Andrew Ladd had one, two, three, four whacks at the puck in the Panther crease before getting it by Vokoun to give Chicago a 1-0 lead.
The Panthers settled a bit in the second period, even outshooting the Blackhawks 11-7. They survived three Blackhawk power plays in the second period, and defenseman Karlis Skrastins stopped a breakaway by Troy Brouwer. At the opposite end, Huet made a big glove save on Booth during a Panther power play.
“Our goalie was good, too,” McCabe said. “He was the only reason we were in it in the third, down 1-0.”
But the Blackhawks kept coming and they got another puck by Vokoun at 8:32 of the third period. Brett McLean got his stick on a shot from the point by defenseman James Wisniewski. But the puck slid to Ben Eager, who wristed it through Vokoun’s leg from the right side of the net from just below the right faceoff circle for a 2-0 lead.
Horton, who started the Panthers three-goal comeback 10 days ago here against the Maple Leafs, nearly started another one at 11:38 of the third period when he moved in alone on Huet, but the Blackhawks goalie made two big saves.
“He played very well,” said Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville of Huet. “He made some timely saves and gave us some confidence.”
With four minutes remaining in regulation and the faceoff in Chicago’s end, Panther coach Peter DeBoer pulled goalie Tomas Vokoun for an extra attacker. But 10 seconds later, Jonathan Toews scored an empty-net goal to make it 3-0. With 46 seconds remaining, Eager scored his second goal of the game for the final score.
DeBoer said he was most disappointed in his team’s performance in the first period.
“We knew what they could do, how talented they were and how they could skate,” he said. “We didn’t stick to the game plan in the first period…There were the better team and that’s a team we have to bring our A plus game against or they expose you, and they did tonight.”
The Blackhawks aren’t the only team the Panthers will see like that. On Saturday night at BankAtlantic, the league’s No. 1 team, the Bruins, come to town.
“It’s a big game Saturday against the best team in the league,” said Stephen Weiss. We’ve got to get up, have a good day (Friday), and battle Saturday.”
Defenseman Keith Ballard led the Panthers with five hits, including the hit of the game on Andrew Ladd…Gregory Campbell won 10 of 13 faceoffs and had four blocked shots…The Panthers wore their white jerseys…Patrick Sharp, who leads the Blackhawks in goals (23), and goalie Nikolai Khabibulin were both on injured reserve. Sharp injured his left knee Saturday against the Stars while Khabibulin has a groin strain…
1 - 0 CHI
2 - 0 CHI
3 - 0 CHI
4 - 0 CHI
Interference on goalkeeper