BOSTON – It was a night that started poorly and ended ugly.
After getting off to a lethargic start against the No. 1-ranked Bruins, the Panthers fell apart in the third period - allowing three goals in the opening 9:31 – and were beaten down 6-1 at TD Banknorth Garden.
To say the Panthers kicked off their five-game road trip with a thud would be an understatement since it was their most lopsided defeat of the season.
Despite the score and poor start and finish – the Bruins had a 2-0 lead in the opening 6:17 of the game - the Panthers actually had some chances and were trailing by only a goal late in the second period. But the wheels seemed to fall off late in the second when Byron Bitz, alone in front of the Panther net, tipped a puck past goalie Craig Anderson to make it 3-1.
When the Bruins returned for the third period, the route was on.
The only good thing to come from this night? Eighth-place Buffalo lost to Anaheim and ninth-place Carolina lost to Ottawa, so the Panthers remain in the seventh spot in the Eastern Conference. Unfortunately, they lost ground on fourth-place Philadelphia and fifth-place Montreal.
“Ugly,” was the word Panther coach Peter DeBoer used to describe parts of this game. But, he added, “Actually, I didn’t think it was as bad as the score indicated.”
“We obviously had the real poor start, spotted them two goals, which we can’t do against anyone, let alone the best team in the league,” DeBoer said. “I thought we got our legs and battled a little bit. At the end of the first, I thought we had a chance. They capitalized on their opportunities. I thought they played a smart game.”
The Panthers, who beat the Bruins 2-0 Saturday at BankAtlantic Cennter, witnessed a more physical and aggressive team than they saw three days earlier. But the Panthers hurt themselves early and didn’t help goalie Craig Anderson, who stopped 33 shots and was making his first start since Feb. 3 with Tomas Vokoun out with the flu.
A Panther turnover in their own zone just 48 seconds into the game led to a Patrice Bergeron goal. Five minutes later, a 3-on-1 odd-man rush led to a 2-0 lead on a goal by Mark Stuart.
“The first two goals were one bad turnover and the other a bad, odd-man rush,” DeBoer said. “We stepped up in the neutral zone (on the second goal), which is uncharacteristic for us.”
Tonight’s Mayors Jewelers Three Star Selections of the Game are:
1st:Byron Bitz 2nd: Michael Ryder 3rd: Milan Lucic
Mayors is the Official Jeweler of the Florida Panthers, please visit www.mayors.com or your local South Florida Mayors location.
Despite the poor start, the Panthers came back as they’ve done all season when, at 13:34 of the first, Kamil Kreps took a nice feed from Anthony Stewart between the hash marks and fired it past goalie Tim Thomas.
It was Kreps second goal of the season, his first since Dec. 12 (21 games played). Kreps nearly had his second goal of the game at 6:25 of the second period if not for a big save by Thomas. At the other end of the rink in the second, Anderson made a key pad save on Phil Kessel.
“It was 2-1,” Kreps said. “We were right there.”
But with 4:07 remaining in the second period, Stephane Yelle fired a puck from the left boards just above the goal line that Bitz, standing all alone in front of the Panther net, tipped past Anderson for a 3-1 lead.
Goals by Bitz and Aaron Ward 5:46 into the third period and a power play goal by Michael Ryder at 9:31 put the Panthers away.
“We played like garbage in the third period,” said Panther defenseman Nick Boynton. “I thought the first two (periods) we were pretty even.”
Said Radek Dvorak; “I don’t know what happened in the third, but it can’t happen. We showed a couple of days ago we can win against a team like Boston.”
The Bruins, who had won only one of their previous seven games, wanted to make a statement as they kicked off a six-game homestand by being more physical, crowding the net and being more aggressive. Mission accomplished.
“They threw a lot of hits,” DeBoer said. “Physically, they were a different team than the one we played in Florida. We knew that was going to happen. We should have been better prepared.”
But DeBoer, whose club has gone 14-6-3 since Jan. 1 and has earned points in 17 of their last 23 games, wasn’t ready to panic after one game.
“It wasn’t a great game,” he admitted. “You’re going to play 82 games in a season and you’re going to have some good ones and some bad ones. We’ll burn the tape and keep moving forward. We’ve played a lot more good than bad.”
The Panthers now go Wednesday to New York to prepare for Thursday’s night game against the Rangers before moving to New Jersey and Washington through the weekend.
“We have to make sure we come back strong against the Rangers,” Dvorak said.
Nick Tarnasky had five hits, Gregory Campbell four…The Panthers had 25 shots, 16 from Campbell, David Booth, Jay Bouwmeester, Richard Zednik and Kreps…Bruins Michael Ryder, who missed seven games with facial injuries, returned to the lineup Tuesday and assisted on Stuart’s goal…
TORTS TAKES OVER
John Tortorella spent his first day Tuesday on the ice as coach of the Rangers. The former Lightning coach emphasized a more up-tempo pace, had the team go through some new drills, and removed all statistics and standings posted on a wall near a workout room, “because this is a fresh start.”
The Rangers will find out pretty quick if Tortorella can make a difference and stop the Rangers recent slide. They play Wednesday at Toronto before Tortorella debuts as the team’s head coach at home Thursday when the Rangers play host to the Panthers.
The NHL Network will offer a free preview to 34 million subscribers, including viewers of DirecTV, Dish Network, from March 2-7…
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