Everyone knows how huge the divisional match-ups are going to be for the Panthers for the remainder of the season. With the divisional points lead evaporated, the Cats are not only to have to work hard to get any sort of padding back, but they also can't lose many divisional games, else they give up too much ground to those chasing them. Despite being thoroughly outplayed for most of the game, the tired and road-weary Panthers survived a close one, topping the Winnipeg Jets in a shootout by a score of 4-3. Mikael Samuelsson would score the eventual winner, but the MVP of the night for the Panthers was goaltender Scott Clemmensen, who kept the Panthers in a game they had no business being in. Kris Versteeg continued his hot streak against the Jets, scoring two in regulation and another in the shootout, and the Panthers gained two points they desperately needed. Thanks to Washington losing on Friday to the Islanders, the Panthers reclaimed sole possession of first in the Southeast, but they'll need to keep winning to stay there.
Surprisingly, the Panthers came out with seemingly more energy than the Jets and mostly controlled the puck for the first five minutes of the game. Also surprisingly, the Panthers scored the first goal of the game, with Versteeg roofing a backhand past Ondrej Pavelec off a nice feed from Marcel Goc. The Jets would then take a penalty immediately after, sending Florida on their first powerplay of the game. The man advantage has been dysfunctional for the most part for the Panthers as of late, but this particular instance wasn't bad, until Sean Bergenheim took a roughing call for punching Mark Stuart in the face. To add insult to injury, Goc would take a tripping call next, giving the Jets a 4-on-3 for just under a minute. The Panthers held off both resulting powerplays and only allowed a single shot on Clemmensen. The Panthers would go back on the PK as Krys Barch would step in to stick up for Mike Santorelli, who took a forearm shiver to the face with no call. The Cats would kill that off easily, but Winnipeg would start to pressure Florida with some sustained offensive zone pressure. Clemmensen made several great saves to keep Florida in the lead, and it would make a big difference for the Cats, as the hard-working fourth line would put one past Pavelec with just 17 second remaining in the period. The goal would be credited to Santorelli as the puck bounced off his body, but the opportunity was mainly generated by Versteeg, with Barch chipping a loose puck towards the net and off Santorelli. Great way to finish the period for the Cats, and they'd go into the second with a 2-0 lead.
Winnipeg came out fighting in the second, dominating in shots for the first ten minutes of the period. They would cut the Panther lead down by one, as Bergenheim would end up back in the box for hooking. Nik Antropov would roof a wrister over Clemmensen on the man advantage, giving the Jets their first goal of the night and their first on the powerplay of the evening despite three prior chances. The Panthers would get a powerplay a few minutes later as Jim Slater got called for tripping, taking down Versteeg near the penalty box boards. The Panthers would squander the opportunity though, not putting much in the way of quality chances towards the Winnipeg net. After the Panther powerplay, WInnipeg would put a stranglehold on the game, throwing shot after shot at Clemmensen and hemming Florida into their own zone for what felt like an eternity. It was at this point that you could see the Panthers hit a wall, clearly tired from the travel and back-to-back games. The Panthers started playing like we've seen in several games in this tough stretch they've endured, trying to survive and not pressuring the other goaltender with anything more than a perimeter shot here and there. Good thing Clemmensen was on, because the score should've been 8-2 in favor of Winnipeg. Clemmer held down the fort until late in the period, when the Panthers got another chance on the powerplay thanks to another trip on the Jets, but despite some great pressure and another near miss by Versteeg the Cats couldn't widen their lead. Florida would then get called for yet another penalty as their powerplay wound down, with Bergenheim going to the box for boarding. The Jets wouldn't be able to score in the final minute of play though, and would start the third on the powerplay.
The Jets came out pressing again, and Florida was losing a lot of battles in the corners and along the wall, ensuring they would have trouble clearing the puck out of their own zone. The Panthers did an admirable job of bending but not breaking thanks to Clemmensen, but it would only last so long as Antropov would score his second of the game as the Panther defense refused to step up on him, ceding the low slot for a wide open wrister right in front. Despite the fatigue, Florida found a way to keep themselves in the game as Tobias Enstrom laid out an ill-advised pass up the middle of his own zone, and Versteeg picked off the pass and fired a wrister at Pavelec, who got a piece of the puck but not enough as it would trickle over the goal line to give the Panthers a 3-2 lead. The teams would trade chances for awhile until the Jets started pressuring hard again, and Alex Burmistrov would tie it back up off a sweet fake shot-pass from Enstrom in front. The Jets would continue to get the majority of the chances, posting 45 total shots by the close of the third, but Clemmensen would stay strong and take the game to OT, even though the Panthers didn't deserve to be there.
Winnipeg had majority of the pressure to start, but the Panthers would ding one off the iron as Tomas Fleischmann sent a pass to Shawn Matthias, who tipped it on net. Winnipeg countered as Johnny Oduya made a nice move at the blueline to get loose and nearly set up a goal. Versteeg nearly deflected a shot in but Pavelec made a great save to keep the OT period going. Fleischmann nearly had the winner but he wasn't able to beat Pavelec either, and he was quite pissed about it, yelling at himself going to the bench. Winnipeg had a late faceoff in the Florida zone with eight seconds remaining, but the Panthers held them off and it went to the dreaded shootout.
Bryan Little shoots wide on Clemmensen
Stephen Weiss stopped stick side by Pavelec
Kyle Wellwood beats Clemmensen on the backhand after a nice deke
Versteeg beats Pavelec off a shifty switch to the backhand
Andrew Ladd misses the net wide
Tomas Kopecky also misses wide
Blake Wheeler stuffs it home after Clemmensen whiffs on a poke check
Santorelli beats Pavelec five-hole to keep Florida in it
Antropov gets Clemmensen out of position, but misses
Fleischmann couldn't beat Pavelec
Antti Miettinen stoned by Clemmensen
Goc stopped by Pavelec
Burmistrov misses wide of Panther net
Mikael Samuelsson FINALLY wins it in round 7
- A win is great, no doubt, but a divisional win is huge. Of all the games left on the schedule, those will be the most important for the Panthers. Huge win tonight.
- Clemmensen deserves a steak dinner from everyone in the Panther dressing room after this one. He was the MVP tonight and made an average effort by the team in front of him enough to earn them two points. Can't say enough about how well he played.
- Florida was just downright terrible statistically in this game. At the end of the second period, the Jets had 30 shots, 25 hits, and won 31 faceoffs. In contrast, the Panthers had 17 shots, 8 hits and 16 faceoffs won. By the end, the Jets had over 40 shots. That's the fourth time in the last eight games the Cats have allowed over 40 shots to the opponent. They have only allowed 40 or more shots to an opponent THREE times in the other 38 games they've played so far. Dineen and his fellow coaches have some serious work to do if they want to pull this team out of the spiral they're in.
- Sean Bergenheim looks like he missed playing. He's got some real jump and is throwing his body at the opponent every time he gets a chance. Now let's hope he gets the goal scoring going again. He had three goals in the two games before he was injured. Gotta stop taking penalties first though.
- Someone forgot to give Weiss his Red Bull. He looked pretty darn tired after the second period.
- The Jets play-by-play announcer is just god awful. Mispronounced player names, identified the wrong players (on both teams) for penalties, shots, and general plays, and is as bad of an unabashed homer as Jim Jackson or Jack Edwards. Goldie, if you're reading this, please make sure we don't have to endure this guy again. I'll chip in for the airfare.
- Santorelli was a healthy scratch last game, but got the call for this one, and he made it count. Once again he worked his ass off all game and played a strong two-way game. He's not really suited for fourth-line linemates, as he will always post better totals with more skilled wingers, but he's making the most of his chances anyway. He saw some powerplay time in the second as well, which was surprising, and scored in the shootout.
- It's been awhile since I sat through a Don Cherry intermission. Generally I tend to avoid things that make me want to crack open the cyanide tooth I had put in and wait for the darkness to come. I decided to try it again, and the same words entered my mind as always: When is this going to end? Not only that, but they had friggin Mike Milbury during intermission as well. I fought the urge to bite down hard.
- Versteeg did what he needs to do every night for the Panthers: end up on the scoresheet. He's a Jet killer so far this season, with six goals in three games. He ended up with two goals, an assist and a shootout goal in this one. Let's hope Verbeauty is back, because the Panthers could sure use him.
- Claude Noel looks like a Canadian Mr. Bean.
- Majority of the Panthers are doing too much standing around. When the Cats were at their best, they were entering the offensive zone with speed and puck control; now they're dumping, chasing, losing the battle and going the other way. Too many Panthers are standing around watching the game and not forechecking or backchecking, and you can't keep blaming injuries or scheduling. The coaching staff will have the option of benching players now that majority of the roster is healthy, and I wouldn't be surprised to see a lot of that in the coming month.
- Down at the old watering hole: A pint of Ballast Point Sculpin IPA. Beer rules.
Thanks to a wonderful blackout rule, I won't be able to view the next game at home, so I'll be travelling to the den of the enemy, watching the Panthers face off against the Flyers on Tuesday night at a friend's house. You will all be treated to the lyrical stylings and masterful prose of Chris Roberts, so please behave and tip generously. The Flyers will be without Danny Briere, who just was shelved due a concussion, and are already missing James vanRiemsdyk and Chris Pronger to concussions as well, so if the Panthers bring their work ethic they could top the Flyers at home in Sunrise. Should be a good one.