SUNRISE – Several minutes after it was over - after the Panthers had blown three leads and had their eight-game point streak snapped Friday evening - Panthers defenseman Bryan Allen shook his head and said, “It’s hard to explain right now.”
Indeed. It was just one of those nights. Despite taking a 2-0 lead just 2:04 into their game against the Maple Leafs, despite breaking out of their power-play slump and having several chances to put the game away, the Panthers wound up blowing three leads and lost 6-4 at BankAtlantic Center.
The loss broke a five-game winning streak against the Maple Leafs dating back to 2007-08 and it also negated a two-goal effort by rookie defenseman Dmitry Kulikov. The Panthers are now 8-3-3 in their last 14 games. The Maple Leafs are 3-0-2 in their last five.
Unfortunately, each time the Panthers took the lead, the Maple Leafs, winners of only five games this season, crawled back to tie the game. Finally, at 12:26 of the third period, Niklas Hagman scored his second goal of the game to give the Leafs their first lead of the game 5-4. Matt Stajan scored into an empty net to ice it.
“It’s a tough one to swallow,” said coach Peter DeBoer.
In fact, the Panthers could have scored four goals in the first period. But Stephen Weiss and Nathan Horton each missed a pair of scoring opportunities; Horton was stopped on a breakaway by goalie Jonas Gustavsson. Instead of leaving the ice after 20 minutes up by as many as four, the Panthers went to their dressing room up only 2-1.
“It’s been a little of our Achilles heal all year, not putting teams away when we have the opportunity,” DeBoer said. “All of a sudden instead of coming out of the period up three goals or two-or-three to none, it’s 2-1 and it’s a different game.”
It didn’t help the Panthers were called for four penalties in the second period and were sloppy in the defensive zone on several occasions throughout the game.
“We had guys getting beat one-on-one tonight, we had miscues with the puck in our own end,” DeBoer said.
And it seemed like it was going to be so easy. Heck, the Panthers were up 2-0 before the Maple Leafs had even taken a shot on goal.
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Just 1:11 into the game, Radek Dvorak gave the Panthers a 1-0 lead when he beat Gustavsson on a blast from the face-off circle. Less than a minute later, Michael Frolik made it 2-0 with a power play goal, the Panthers first in 15 attempts over five games.
“We’re up two quick,” Allen said, “and we sat back and thought it was going to be an easy game.”
No such luck, as Phil Kessel moved around defenseman Keith Ballard at 12:17 before beating goalie Tomas Vokoun to make it a 2-1 game.
“They get one, we get back on our heels…same old, same old,” McCabe said.
After Hagman tied the game five seconds after the Panthers had killed a power play with an all-too-easy goal alone in front of the net at 2:30 of the second period, the fun began. Up and down, back and forth.
Kulikov scored his second goal of the season, his first at BankAtlantic Center, to make it 3-2 at 8:11 of the second. Five minutes later, Alexei Ponikarovsky tied it at three on the power play.
Just 4:07 into the third period, Kulikov scored his second of the game (power play) on a nice feed from Stephen Weiss to make it 4-3. But just 13 second later, Kessel scored his second of the game to make it 4-4.
“Those goals will kill you,” said DeBoer of Kessel’s second of the game and eighth of the season. “They’re inexcusable.”
“Mental mistakes, mistakes that we can’t afford to make and they cashed in on it,” Allen said.
The loss was also deflating because it was the first time the Panthers had scored more than three goals since Nov. 18. “For us, four goals has to be enough for us to win,” DeBoer said.
“When we get an offensive output of four goals and a couple power play goals that’s got to be good enough for us to win, and it wasn’t because of our entire defensive effort.”
For the Panthers, they have get things right quick since they flew to Nashville immediately after this game for Saturday’s game against the Predators, who lost at home to the Blues 3-1 Friday but are 8-3 in their last 11 games.
“It’s a good challenge for us,” Allen said. “We’ve got to be hungry and keep this fresh in our memory.”
Steve MacIntyre continues to do his job. After taking on Donald Brashear Wednesday, MacIntyre went a round Friday with Colton Orr…Gregory Campbell (upper body) and Cory Stillman (knee) did not dress. Campbell flew to Nashville with the team and could play against the Predators…Goalie Scott Clemmensen, expected to start Saturday in Nashville, is 1-0-1 in his career against the Predators with a 1.94 goals against…With an assist Friday, Tomas Kaberle moved into a tie with for second with Tim Horton on the Maple Leafs all-time scoring list among defensemen with 458 points…Keith Ballard had four hits and four shots…Wayne Primeau won 12 of 16 face-offs for the Leafs…
KOISTINEN SENT TO ROCHESTER
After clearing waivers Thursday afternoon, Ville Koistinen was sent to the Panthers’ American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate in Rochester after being a healthy scratch in six of the last eight games.
“He needs to play,” said GM Randy Sexton Friday morning. “Our team has been playing well the last 12, 14 games and he hasn’t been able to get in the lineup.”
Koistinen, a defenseman playing forward this season, was signed as a free agent over the off-season. Sexton said Koistinen hadn’t “played the way we believe he’s capable of.”
“When we signed him we didn’t know that Kulikov was going to make our team. So it’s kind of a double-edged sword. It’s terrific Dmitry has made the team and played as well as he has, but the flip side of that is he’s basically taken Ville’s spot.
“He’ll get some games in Rochester and we’ll see how he does and evaluate things after that."