Despite playing an ugly and lazy second period, the Panthers managed to give the home crowd quite a show, besting the Carolina Hurricanes 3-2 in overtime off a beautiful setup by Brian Campbell. Kris Versteeg, who took a nasty hit from Jussi Jokinen earlier in the game and looked to be injured, scored the game winner only minutes after he nearly scored in regulation to keep the game from reaching overtime. Florida owes netminder Jose Theodore some warm and cuddly hugs after this one, as his play in the second period kept the Panthers in this one long enough for them to right the ship and take two points away from a persistent Carolina squad. The Canes, although on the wrong end of the scoresheet, played a great, hard-working game and deserved better. That said, Cats fans don't really feel too much sympathy I'm sure.
Florida controlled the early play and managed to draw a penalty as Alexei Ponikarovsky gets called for a trip. The resulting Panther powerplay wasn't able to convert, but the red hot Sean Bergenheim took care of business, picking up his own rebound off a missed shot and putting it past Cam Ward for a 1-0 lead. The teams would skate much of the next five minutes in the neutral zone until Carolina drew a hooking call as Mikael Samuelsson went to the box, giving the Canes their first shot on the powerplay. However, the stalwart Panther penalty kill was able to kill it off and generated a little bit of shorthanded pressure. The Cats second line tested Ward heavily at the halfway mark, with Shawn Matthias using his big frame to shield the puck and walk his way out front of the Carolina net. The Canes started pressuring later in the period as the Eric Staal line threw a flurry of shots towards Jose Theodore, nearly scoring from the goalline, but the Panther goalie held strong. The teams traded chances until Tim Gleason scored with about a minute and a half left in the first. The shot from Gleason was clipped by Brian Campbell and got just enough to fool Theodore. The Cats and Canes would pressure each other a bit more before the end of the period, but no one would score any more.
Carolina would generate most of the pressure in the first give minutes of the second, throwing lots of shots from the point at Theodore and generating some rebounds. They were outworking the Panthers down low and in the corners and were getting rewarded with quality scoring chances because of it. There was a bunch of end-to-end play from both teams and a lot of whistles, and once again plenty of neutral zone play. The Hurricanes would get their second powerplay of the game as Stephen Weiss would get called for high sticking. Florida would have another sterling effort on the PK, killing it off with not much pressure on Theodore. Carolina would continue to work hard and it looked like they were going to start walking away with the game if not for the play of Theodore. The Canes finally broke through with a well-deserved goal as Chad LaRose corralled a weak clearing attempt by Kris Versteeg and put it high on Theodore with a perfect wrister. At this point the Canes outshot the Panthers 15-3, and Florida didn't really respond with much vigor until the top line applied some solid pressure with about three minutes left in the period. Unfortunately they couldn't convert and the Cats walked into the dressing room happy to get out of the second with only a one goal deficit.
The Canes started the period again with much of the possession time, but not generating much from it. Florida would start to put more pressure on Ward though, and Florida would be the beneficiary of a powerplay courtesy of a tripping call against former Panther Bryan Allen. The Cats would ice the second powerplay unit as the top line had just been out on the ice, but leave it to Jason Garrison to rip one home anyway, giving him his tenth goal of the year and tying the game at two. Shortly after, Jussi Jokinen takes a cheap shot at Versteeg from behind, boarding him hard into the corner and seemingly injuring Versteeg badly. Luckily for Versteeg and the Panthers, he would be alright and the Cats would go back on the powerplay. Unfortunately for the Cats, they weren't able to convert, though the goal and back to back powerplays definitely swung the momentum in Florida's favor. The teams would go back and forth until about six minutes left as Versteeg was called for slashing as he tried to knock in a loose puck. Florida would once again shut down the Carolina powerplay and kill off the penalty. Both teams would again go back and forth for the remainder of the period until about 15 seconds left in the third, when the Panthers managed to get a 2-on-1 featuring Versteeg and Tomas Fleischmann. Versteeg would end up ringing it off the iron and Ward would make a glove save on the rebound shot by Fleischmann, ensuring the overtime period would come.
There weren't a lot of shots in this one as both teams looked pretty tentative, but the Panthers managed to force Carolina into making some mistakes, and Matthias was nearly the beneficiary as he had a clear breakaway on Ward but couldn't pop it home five-hole. Didn't matter though as Versteeg would ice this one off a great pass from Campbell and give the Cats a 3-2 OT win. No shootout necessary this time.
- Gutsy effort by Versteeg. He took a real beating in this game and yet perserved through it all, making plays as often as possible and netting the game winner in OT. There are few players on this team that leave everything out there on the ice as much as Versteeg does.
- Bergenheim would leave in the first with a lower body injury. Not good news for a team that is already without Jack Skille, Scottie Upshall and Marcel Goc, and especially so because Bergenheim has three goals in his last two games.
- Florida was downright awful during the second period in regards to defensive zone play. Every player in a Cats uniform other than the goalie was outworked. They were lucky to win this game and everyone owes Theo an extra gift in his stocking this holiday for keeping the team in it in the second.
- Pound for pound, point for point, the best power forward on this team has been Matthias. He is playing at a level that hasn't been seen from him yet in his career, and has earned his place as the second line center. A lot of folks might not remember me saying this in the past, but I have always projected him as a very similar player to Penguins forward Jordan Staal. He's proving me right so far this year and it's been rewarding and exciting to watch him grow as a player.
- Weiss took a shot off the ankle late in the game and looked to be in a good amount of discomfort during the OT period. Hopefully the quiet leader of the Cats is alright, as he's the lynchpin of this team both offensively and defensively game in and game out.
- Hopefully Jokinen gets suspended or fined for his boarding penalty against Versteeg. It was a clear cross-check to the back of a player in a prone position. Sounds like prime Shanaban material to me.
- Skille's out with a shoulder injury suffered in the previous game against Calgary, so callup Greg Rallo got his first NHL start with the Panthers. He only saw 3:31 of ice time, so it's kind of hard to gauge his performance in the game.
- Campbell playing with Garrison as his defensive partner has paid a lot of dividends for both of them as well as the team. Perhaps the best benefit though? Garrison is way more patient with the puck (most of the time), and is learning from Campbell, who is as calm and collective as they come.
- For a team that wants to play a puck possession game, you couldn't tell tonight that the Panthers were one of those teams. They had a rough go at carrying into the zone with speed, an even rougher go at dumping and forechecking, and the passing wasn't consistent either. That kind of stuff is going to have to be more consistent if the Panthers want to stop going into overtime every game and win it in regulation.
- Some of Versteeg's passing makes you wonder if he has eyes in the back of his head. He could hit a fly on the boards from halfway across the rink, but make it soft enough to give the fly just a bruise if he wanted to. But he wouldn't do that; he's a nice guy.
- Andreas Nodl now wants his last name name pronounced "Noodle" as compared to the former "Node-Ell". To each his own, I guess.