Another game, another nailbiter of an overtime period, and another shootout. If the Panthers keep this up, they're going to need to give Maalox out rather than plastic rats. Luckily for the Cats faithful, the Panthers were able to win this one in a shootout, topping a tired Calgary Flames team 3-2 thanks to Dmitry Kulikov, Stephen Weiss and Jose Theodore. Sean Bergenheim provided all the scoring in regulation for the Panthers, scoring both Panther goals, and Weiss scored the eventual game winning goal in the shootout, beating Flames rookie netminder Leland Irving. Florida sorely needed to put together a shootout win, as you got the feeling this may start to become a real thorn in the side of this team. Thankfully the monkey is off the back, and the Cats collected a solid two points to stay seven points ahead of Washington in the division.
Both teams came out skating hard and fast, with Florida generating most of the pressure in the first five minutes. The second line of Shawn Matthias, Sean Bergenheim and Mikael Samuelsson nearly scored only two minutes in, and the forechecking by the entire Panther squad looked great and energized. The Cats got the first powerplay but were unable to convert despite some good pressure on Irving. Not long after the powerplay ended, the Panthers struck first, as Bergenheim followed up a flurry in front of the Calgary net by slamming home a loose puck for a 1-0 lead. The Flames started to wake up a bit after the Panther goal and had a few good shifts, and managed to convert on one of them, as former Panther Olli Jokinen flipped a bouncing puck past Jose Theodore to tie it up. The Flames started skating harder at this point and started to really ramp up the physicality of the game, especially with a notable hit on Brian Campbell who got drilled into the wall in his own zone. The Panthers would take a goaltender interference call with a little more than five minutes left in the period, giving Calgary their first shot on the man advantage. Florida did a fantastic job killing off the penalty, often standing Calgary up right at the blueline. Florida's top line nearly put one by Irving with a solid shift towards the last minute of the period, but the Panthers were unable to pot a second goal and went into the intermission tied at one.
The Cats came out pressuring the young goalie of the Flames with Samuelsson and Tomas Kopecky nearly scoring early on. Florida got an early powerplay as Tim Jackman makes no effort to avoid Theodore, taking a charging penalty in the process. The Flames nearly scored a shorthanded goal at the start of the penalty due to some sloppy passing by the Panthers, but Florida was able to settle down and establish some pressure. During the kill, the Flames tripped up Tomas Fleischmann off a nice move off the boards, giving Florida a very short 5-on-3 opportunity. The Flames killed off the 23 seconds of the 5-on-3, then pretty easily killed off the 5-on-4, and very nearly scored immediately after the powerplay was over. The Flames would get the first powerplay off a tripping call as Matthias was caught, and then Marco Sturm would get called for hooking about 30 seconds later, giving the Flames a minute and a half of 5-on-3 action. Jarome Iginla would rocket a slapshot off the iron, but that would be all the Flames would see as Theodore and the Cats would hold the fort. The second line would again have a great opportunity to score off some trickery from Matthias, but Irving would hold his post and keep the puck out. The Panthers got another powerplay as Brendan Morrison did a little lumberjacking work, slashing Matthias' stick in half, but the Panthers weren't able to put one in and would end the period on the man advantage, giving them a powerplay to start the third.
The Cats weren't able to convert on the remaining minute of powerplay time they had to start the period. They'd then go right on the penalty kill again as Kris Versteeg was called for a slash. This was the fourth powerplay chance for the Flames, and they couldn't score on the first three but made no mistake on the fourth as Rene Bourque snuck one past Theodore while standing by the side of the net, giving Calgary a 2-1 lead. Irving made a great save on Samuelsson immediately after, keeping the lead for Calgary, and once again the second line looked like the best line. Florida would get another chance on the powerplay as Alex Tanguay was called for a trip. The Cats top line had a ton of trouble getting to the zone and setting up thanks to the aggressive PK of the Flames and they were able to kill it off without too much trouble. Florida started to turn up the pressure a bit with some good shifts by the first and third line, tiring out Calgary by trapping them into their own zone for some long stretches. It would eventually pay off, as Bergenheim would score his second of the night in almost the same fashion as his first, and tie the game up at two with 4:35 left in the period. Florida poured on the pressure then, but couldn't score a third and the Cats again went to an extra frame.
Florida again had majority of the overtime chances, as they did during the previous game against New Jersey. During a scrum in front off a great Theodore save, a fight broke out between Iginla and Versteeg, creating a very rare 3-on-3 situation in OT for a little over a minute and a half. Talk about ulcer-inducing; there's an awful lot of space out there with only three skaters per side. That said, no one scored and the Cats went to the kryptonite period: the shootout.
Matthias up first; stopped by Irving
Tanguay against Theodore; dekes Theo's jock off and scores
Bergenheim tries to even it up and misses the net on the high backhand try
Jokinen tries to win it and is stuffed by Theodore while trying to go five-hole
Kulikov up next, and he beats Irving to even it up
Borque tries to win it as well, but Theodore steps up and stops him
Weiss scores for Florida with a beautiful backhand five-hole after getting Irving moving
Stempniak, after waiting for the inevitable shower of rats to get cleared, gets stopped by Theodore and the Panthers win
- I still feel the breeze from the collective sigh of relief from all the Florida fans watching the Cats in a shootout win. Tip of the lid to Kulikov with a big shootout goal.
- Florida is really getting themselves into penalty trouble a lot in the last six to eight games. Once again some undisciplined penalties killed the Cats, giving Calgary several chances to not only get back in the game, but gain the lead. Gotta cut those out, as they've been killer.
- Always a pleasure to hear the normally placid Florida home crowd boo a player. The obvious recipient in this one was former Cat Jay Bouwmeester, who skated a lot but didn't do much else (as usual). Note that former captain Jokinen did not get booed. OK, well maybe I booed him when he scored, but other than that you couldn't hear any obvious displeasure for Olli.
- The Cats top line was pretty quiet tonight at even strength. Calgary did a great job of giving them very little space to work with and frustrated Versteeg and Weiss the most.
- The Calgary forecheckers did a great job taking away space and time from the Florida defense and made every last one of the defenders look over their shoulder when handling the puck. The Cats defense looked nervous and a little tentative to start the game due to the heavy pressure they were under nearly every shift, and there were several notable turnovers because of it.
- There are those who would say that Florida is a one-line team. When it comes to the powerplay, they would be right.
- Kopecky had a lot of quality chances but couldn't finish any of them. He's got a laser of a wrist shot but hasn't been too accurate with it, only scoring three times since the start of November. Anyone that watches hockey knows Kopecky isn't a huge scoring threat, but with second and third line time, hopefully he'll score at a more regular clip from here on out. Hopefully.
- Blake Comeau was basically let go by the New York Islanders earlier this month, and claimed by the Flames shortly after. I know it was a bit of a statement move by Islander management to wake up a very underachieving team, but it was definitely a mistake, as Comeau is a fine young player and he looked good in this game.
- The Cats had a lot of chances to dump and generate a forecheck during the game, but chose instead to try to carry into the offensive zone more than not. Because of this, the Calgary forwards left one man back to hold the blueline on the rush and caused Florida to turn the puck over quite a bit. The Cats have to do a little better job adjusting during the period to get around hard counters to their system.
- I'm not saying the refs really affected the outcome of this game, but I have to agree with Kevin Dineen after the New Jersey game, and now after this one: there's a ton of uncalled interference happening out there. This Panther team is very fast, and it's not just one line. Opponents are obviously aware of this and seem to be doing a fair amount of extracurricular work to slow them down, and often times it looks to me like it should be called. And no, that's not the homer in me talking; I'd say that no matter what the team.
- Irving was great, with 39 saves. He's got a bright future if he can keep that up.
- Jack Skille went off after missing a check holding his left arm, which looked like it hurt immensely. Let's hope Jack is alright and hopefully isn't out long. He's not a point producer, but he plays incredibly hard almost every single night and the Panthers will miss him if it's a serious injury.
- Samuelsson was VERY close to scoring a couple tonight. He's already adding a bunch of offensive opportunities to the team and has been a fantastic addition to the second line. As he continues to get his legs under him and develops more chemistry with Matthias and Bergenheim, he's going to become a real threat to score each game. That's something Florida sorely needs.
- I had to watch this one using the Calgary television feed. The TV presentation was probably one of the worst of any of the NHL teams, and I've seen every one of them multiple times (and no, I don't speak French, but I just mute the Habs home feeds). The play by play announcer pronounced Theodore's full name in three different variations; it's not like Theo is a rookie. Makes me very grateful for the quality of Fox Sports Florida broadcasts, as well as Bill Lindsay and Steve Goldstein.