SUNRISE – There were hats and rats, a lost lead, three power-play goals, a shook-up goaltender, a shootout, and, yes, a huge sigh of relief Wednesday evening at the BankAtlantic Center.
Despite losing a 5-3 lead inside the final minute of regulation, the Panthers managed to snap a five-game winless streak when Stephen Weiss, who scored a hat trick in the first 29 minutes of the game, beat backup goalie Peter Budaj in the Panthers fifth shootout attempt for a 6-5 victory.
It was a wild game, and on top of Monday’s strange loss in Atlanta – a loss coach Peter DeBoer called earlier in the day “one of those Twilight Zone nights” – it seemed even more bizarre.
The Panthers had leads of 2-0, 3-1, 4-2 and, finally, 5-3 with just :56.2 seconds remaining in regulation. But with starting goalie Craig Anderson pulled for a sixth attacker, the Avalanche scored twice in 37 seconds before a stunned crowd to send the game into overtime.
That’s when things got stranger. In overtime, after two huge saves by Panthers goalie Scott Clemmensen, defenseman Keith Ballard, who accidentally injured teammate Tomas Vokoun in Atlanta, rushed the puck up the ice and unintentionally slammed into Anderson, who lay on the ice for several minutes before leaving and being replaced by backup Budaj, who hadn’t played since Nov. 18. In the shootout, Budaj stopped Michael Frolik, Steve Reinprecht, Rostislav Olesz and Nathan Horton before Weiss beat him with a shot between his pads.
The Panthers had won for the first time since Nov. 21 and left South Florida for Thursday evening’s game in Washington.
“A crazy game,” said defenseman Jordan Leopold.
“It wasn’t the way we drew it up, but we’ll take it,” said captain Bryan McCabe.
“Very weird games,” said defenseman Bryan Allen. “I don’t know how to describe them. We’re lucky we won. It doesn’t matter how we won, but we have to remember what happened.”
What happened was the Panthers allowed three goals in the third period. They’ve now been outscored 10-2 in the third period in their last four games.
“It’s almost like a self-fulfilling prophesy now that we get a lead and for some reason we lose our composure,” DeBoer said.
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“I don’t know what it is,” said Weiss, whose hat trick was the second of his career and first since January of 2007. “Maybe we have to be a little calmer, be more confident. What do they say, if you think negatively bad things will happen?”
Perhaps some soothing music would help, Weiss was asked? Maybe the lighting of a little patchouli?
“If you see us chanting in the third period, you’ll know what that’s about,” he said with a smile.
After shuffling their lineup in the morning and calling up from their American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate forwards Jeff Taffe and Mike Duco and goalie Alexander Salak (to serve as backup), the Panthers started the game strong against the Avalanche. They fired a season-high 19 goals on the Avalanche net in the first and had a two-goal lead on two goals from Weiss. His first goal, at 16:05, came on the power play. His second at 18:46 came off a rebound.
After Colorado scored at 5:52 of the second, Weiss made it rain hats and rats when he received a smart pass from Horton before firing it past his former teammate, Anderson.
Matt Duchene and Nathan Horton exchanged goals the remainder of the second and the Panthers came back out for the final 20 minutes with a 4-2 lead. But the Avalanche wouldn’t go away. Paul Stastny’s goal at 4:49 made it 4-3. But a goal by Dominic Moore not only gave the Panthers their third power-play goal of the night – the first time this season they’ve scored three – but a 5-3 lead with 12:19 remaining. Things looked even better after the Panthers killed off a double minor on Frolik for high sticking at 10:15.
But on this night, like others recently, no lead was safe for the Panthers. Fortunately, Clemmensen stopped five Avalanche in the shootout and Weiss was called on to close out the game. The Panthers are now tied with Boston for most shootout wins with five.
“Didn’t look too smart using (Weiss) as the fifth shooter,” said DeBoer, able to say it with a laugh at the end of the night. “I don’t think at this point, where we’re at, we’re going to take any marks or give any marks back for how we’re winning games. We found a way to get two points, our goalie found a way to make some saves. We’ll move forward here tomorrow night.”
Weiss wasn’t the only Panther with a three point night. Steven Reinprecht had three assists…Dennis Seidenberg had five blocked shots, an assist, and topped all Panthers skaters with 24:04 of ice time. He was on the Panthers penalty kill for 5:33…Taffe, Salak and Duco left Winnipeg at 6:30 a.m., Wednesday morning after having played Tuesday with the Americans in Manitoba. They arrived at BankAtlantic Center at 4:30 p.m.…Taffe played 5:44 (none in the third period or overtime) and Duco logged 6:04 (none in the third or overtime)…Colorado rookie Matt Duchene scored two goals for the second consecutive game…Chris Stewart, brother of former Panther Anthony Stewart, had a three point night (one goal) for the Avs…DeBoer’s timeline on the injured as of Wednesday morning: David Booth (concussion) out at least until Christmas; Cory Stillman (knee) out until around Christmas; Kenndal McArdle (shoulder) is week-to-week…
PANTHERS TO WASHINGTON, NO OVIE
When the Panthers meet the Capitals in less than 24 hours, the Capitals will be without Alex Ovechkin, who received a two-game suspension Tuesday for a hit on Carolina’s Tim Gleason. Ovechkin is also nursing a sore knee. The Caps still have a formidable group with Nicklas Backstrom (27 points), Mike Green (25 points) and Alexander Semin (17 points).
The Caps are 6-2-2 in their last 10 games and 8-2-3 this season at home. They’re ranked eighth on the power play and 21st on the penalty kill.
The Capitals lines at practice Wednesday:
Brooks Laich, Nicklas Backstrom, Alexander Semin.
Tomas Fleischmann, Brendan Morrison, Eric Fehr.
Alexandre Giroux, Mathieu Perreault, Chris Clark.
Tyler Sloan, David Steckel, Matt Bradley.
The Panthers are 2-5 this season in the second of back-to-back games.
JENKS SELECTED TO TEAM USA WORLD JUNIOR CAMP
Panthers prospect A.J. Jenks, a fourth-round pick in the 2008 Entry Draft, has been selected to the preliminary roster of USA Hockey’s 2010 National Junior Team for the IIHF World Junior Championships (Under-20), which begin Dec. 26 in Saskatchewan.
Jenks will participate in a three-day, pre-tournament training camp Dec. 17-19 in Grand Forks, North Dakota. The left winger has played 22 games with the Plymouth Whalers of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) and has 10 goals and 13 assists.
Goalie Jacob Markstrom, the Panthers first pick (31st overall) in the ’08 Draft, will be the starting goalie for Sweden.
SATURDAY NIGHT: TOYS FOR TOTS
The Panthers will be collecting for the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve Toys For Tots before Saturday’s game against the Thrashers at BankAtlantic Center. Fans can bring toys and drop them off at the main entrance. Marines will also be at the entrance taking monetary donations
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