Sixteen minutes had past in the second period Tuesday evening at BankAtlantic Center and the Panthers and Senators were tied at one and no one seemed to be giving an inch.
“No one had really taken control of the game,” said Panthers defenseman Jay Bouwmeester.
And then everything changed.
Just moments after Senators defenseman Brendan Bell had taken a double-minor for high sticking, the Panthers scored two power play goals within 1:06 and were on their way to a 5-2 victory to extend their winning streak to three games and keep pace in the playoff race.
The Panthers (38-28-11), who got goals from five different players and another strong performance in goal by Craig Anderson (30 saves), remained a point behind eighth-place Montreal for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference and two points behind the seventh-place Rangers.
While the Panthers were eliminating Ottawa from the playoffs, the Canadiens were beating Chicago 4-1 in Montreal.
Although Panthers coach Peter DeBoer didn’t think the Panthers played their best game, especially in the third period when the Senators came at waves and outshot the Panthers 13-8, “we got a win.”
“We played better than that and lost a week or two ago,” said DeBoer, who got power play goals from Richard Zednik and Bryan McCabe, even-strength goals from Nathan Horton and Stephen Weiss, and an empty net goal from Michael Frolik. “We had some key things happen.”
And the first was the two power plays goals in the second period, the Panthers fifth and sixth power play goals in their last three games.
With Bell in the penalty box for high-sticking Horton, the Panthers scored 1:17 later when Frolik sent a pass along the left boards to Zednik standing at the goal line. Zednik shot the puck on Ottawa’s starting goalie Brian Elliott, followed his shot, and jammed his own rebound into the Senators net for a 2-1 Panther lead.
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Still on the power play, the Panthers scored with only 1:36 remaining in the second period when McCabe took a shot from just inside the middle of the blue line that deflected off Anton Volchenkov’s stick and past Elliott for a 3-1 lead. It was McCabe’s first goal in 11 games.
“That’s the turning point in the game for us,” said Cory Stillman, who had two assists on the night and has eight points in his last five games. “We needed to score. To score one is great. To score the second gave us the lead 3-1. It gave us something to work with and continue to push in the third period. It gave us breathing room.”
The two goals going into the third was “a big boost for us,” Weiss said.
“Anytime you can end the period with the lead and go into the next period up a couple goals it’s a big relief,” Anderson said. “I think you stick to your game plan. You don’t have to score any more goals, you just have to keep them out.”
It didn’t hurt the Panthers confidence that just 2:02 into the third period, Weiss deflected a shot by David Booth past Elliott to give the Panthers a three-goal cushion and a 4-1 lead.
That was it for Elliott, who was replaced in goal by Alex Auld. The change seemed to give the Senators a lift. For much of the third period, they played in the Panthers zone and took a dozen shots at Anderson. But for the third consecutive game, Anderson was solid. In his last 180 minutes in goal, Anderson has stopped 102 of 109 shots.
The Senators did make it 4-2 on a goal from Chris Campoli at 13:27 of the third period. But rookie Michael Frolik scored his 20th goal of the season into an empty net with 1:32 remaining to ice the game for the Panthers.
“Our power play got some goals and I thought Andy did a good job shutting the door in the third period when the momentum swung a little in their favor,” DeBoer said. “They started to pour it on and he shut the door and didn’t give them anything.
“The third period was key for me because (Anderson) shut the door. That’s what we need at that point because Ottawa was coming on and pretty strong and I thought they played a real good third period. They were throwing everything at us. Those are tough situations to handle as a team and you need your goaltender to be strong and provide some composure for you, and I think (Anderson) did that for us.”
The reason for the momentum shift in the third period? “I think we get a little tight right now, especially since we’ve blown some leads,” Stillman said. “We used to score and play very well with leads and we have to get back to that habit.”
After a scoreless first period, the Panthers got on the board first at 4:35 of the second period on a play that started with Karlis Skrastins getting the puck out of the Panther zone to Stillman.
The veteran raced down the right wing, got around Jason Spezza, and backhanded the puck over Filip Kuba’s stick to Horton, who buried the puck past Elliott for a 1-0 Panther lead.
It was Horton’s 21st goal of the season, his fifth point in the last five games, and the fourth consecutive year he has scored more than 20 goals.
The Senators tied the game eight minutes later when Chris Kelly took a perfect feed in the slot from Nick Foligno behind the net and one-timed it past Anderson.
But it all changed when Bell took his double minor.
The Panthers will sit back for two days now before continuing this three-game homestand Friday against the Atlanta Thrashers. They’ll get a chance to sit back and watch another shift in the standings Thursday when Montreal visits Long Island to play the Islanders and the Rangers travel to Carolina.
Bouwmeester didn’t know the results of Tuesday’s game between Montreal and Chicago, and it really didn’t matter.
“Basically, we have to almost win all our games and see what happens,” he said. “We’re not in a position where we have a whole lot of room or time to fool around.”
The Panthers had 20 blocked shots Tuesday with Keith Ballard, Skrastins, Gregory Campbell and McCabe getting three each…Rostislav Olesz had five shots…Senators center Mike Fisher won 10 of 13 faceoffs, eight consecutive wins through two periods…Defenseman Steve Eminger and forwards Nick Tarnasky and Anthony Stewart were the Panthers scratches…Christoph Schubert was Ottawa’s scratch…