SUNRISE – The Panthers didn’t leave BankAtlantic Center late Monday evening satisfied. But they may have climbed the first rung in rebuilding their confidence and playoff chances.
Despite losing 3-2 in overtime to the Hurricanes, the Panthers earned an important point and tied Montreal for the eighth and final spot in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
The good news to come out of the game? The Panthers came back from a 2-1 deficit late in the third period and the tying goal came from a power play unit badly in need of scoring a goal.
Not only did the Panthers come back, but they outshot the Hurricanes 39-31 and outhit the ‘Canes 34-26.
“We played hard, we played well,” said coach Peter DeBoer. “We put up (39) shots, (34) hits. We played a good hockey game. (Goalie Cam) Ward made some big saves for them at critical times. It was a hard-fought point. I think maybe we deserved a better fate, but that’s how it goes.”
Added David Booth: “That’s the type of hockey we have to play the rest of the way, high tempo.”
The Panthers, down 2-1 with 5:10 remaining in regulation, had their luck turn when, first, the Hurricanes Rod Brind’Amour was penalized for high sticking. Just 34 seconds later, teammate Erik Cole found his way to the penalty box after being called for a tripping penalty.
The Panthers had a 5-on-3 for 1:26. It was a similar situation they found themselves in two weeks ago when losing at Buffalo 3-1 when failing to convert on such an opportunity.
DeBoer called a time out. Thirty-one seconds into the 2-man advantage, the Panthers tied the game at two when Booth forced his way to the net and a scrum developed in front of Ward. The puck found its way to the side of the net and Cory Stillman buried it into the Carolina net for his first goal in nine games.
“Our power play has struggled 5-on-4, it’s struggled 5-on-3, but we got some movement,” Stillman said. “If we could have put them away under four minutes…but we didn’t do that.”
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Instead, the game went into overtime where Ray Whitney took a cross-ice pass from Joni Pitkanen inside the right faceoff circle and blasted it by Tomas Vokoun (28 saves).
“It’s unfortunate,” said defenseman Nick Boynton. “It was nice to get a point at the very least, but it’s a frustrating way to lose.”
It started better than it ended for the Panthers when Jay Bouwmeester’s goal-scoring drought ended at 8:30 of the first period to give the Panthers a 1-0 lead. Hurricanes defenseman Anton Babchuk, pressured behind his goal, dropped the puck for what he thought was a teammate. Instead, the only player standing there was Stillman.
Standing in the corner on the goal line, Stillman slid the puck into the high slot to Bouwmeester, who fired the puck past goalie Cam Ward for a 1-0 Panther lead.
It was Bouwmeester’s first goal since March 1 and only his second since Feb. 5. The goal, Bouwmeester’s 14th of the season, leaves him one shy of the record he set last year for most goals by a Panthers defenseman.
But 5:17 later with the Hurricanes on the power play, the Panthers failed to clear their zone three times. Babchuk stopped the last clear at the blue line and sent a slapshot on goal that Vokoun stopped. Unfortunately, the rebound came out to Tuomo Ruutu, who lifted the puck past Vokoun to make it 1-1.
The Panthers had their chances in the second period, but they couldn’t beat Ward or take advantage of a power play at 15:56. Then, with only 13 seconds remaining in the second period, the Hurricanes moved 3-on-2 into the Panthers zone after they made a questionable line change.
With Bouwmeester backed into Vokoun, Patrick Eaves skated right into the crease and got the puck past Vokoun for a 2-1 lead. It was a bitter pill for Vokoun, who made big saves earlier in the period of Jussi Jokinen and Dwight Helminen.
The crowd reacted angrily to the goal, thinking the Hurricanes had too many men on the ice. Before the second period, DeBoer spoke to the referee in front of the Panther bench.
“I think it could have been either too many men or offside,” DeBoer said. “We had them for both. Take your choice. But that happens. You get an explanation. They saw it differently. We’ve had a few of those go our way over the month.”
The Panthers hung around in the third period and their luck changed when Brind’Amour and Cole took penalties.
“We got rewarded for working hard,” DeBoer said. “Our desperation level heightened. The guys…you can see their desperation, throwing everything at the other team at a critical point. The way we score is getting pucks to the net, jamming the crease. I thought we did that tonight really well.”
The game marked the last in a five-game homestand in which the Panthers went 1-2-2 while taking four of a possible 10 points. Despite the results, the Panthers are tied with Montreal for eighth and are only three points behind the Rangers in the seventh spot. They now travel for games Wednesday in Buffalo, Thursday in Philadelphia and Saturday in Dallas.
“It was supposed to be a big homestand,” Stillman said. “We’ve got to find a way to win. We have to win the right way. We went to Buffalo last time and lost. It’s up to us to go back and win.
“We have a lot to prove right now.”
Two big games Tuesday night that affect the Panthers playoff chances. Montreal plays host to the Thrashers, the Rangers play host to the Wild.
Nathan Horton returned to the Panthers lineup after missing six games with a finger injury. Horton delivered a game-high six hits. Gregory Campbell had five…Radek Dvorak hit the crossbar with a backhander at 3:30 of the opening period…Campbell won nine of 11 faceoffs, Stephen Weiss won 12 of 20 faceoffs…Karlis Skrastins had four blocked shots…The Panthers scratched forwards Anthony Stewart, Nick Tarnasky and defenseman Steve Eminger…The Hurricanes scratched Frantisek Kaberle, Matt Cullen (lower-body injury), Michael Ryan and Scott Walker…Panthers practice Tuesday at IncredibleIce at 11 a.m.
1 - 0 FLA
1 - 1 Tie