Maybe it was the thin mountain air or maybe Peter Horachek's message is starting to fall on receptive ears. Whatever the case, the Florida Panthers skated to a surprising 4-1 win over the Colorado Avalanche to post just their second road win of the season.
Tim Thomas made 32 saves to collect his 200th career victory, and Florida got goals from four different players to raise their record to 5-12-4. The win was the Panthers' second in three games and it was the first time the club has scored more than three goals in a game since beating the Pittsburgh Penguins 6-3 on October 11th.
Brad Boyes opened the scoring at 12:40 of the first period, as the Panthers avoided falling behind for a change. A revitalized Scottie Upshall and defenseman Tom Gilbert combined on the pretty passing play to set up Boyes, who slipped open in front of Semyon Varlamov, for his seventh of the season.
Despite playing the prior night in Minnesota, the Panthers looked fresh and set a fast pace, forcing the Avalanche into early penalty trouble.
Seventy-five seconds into the second period, the Cats would finally cash in as Brian Campbell blasted a shot from the top of the circle by Varlamov. Gilbert and Upshall would get the assists again.
Florida kept the two-goal lead for just over six minutes before Ryan O'Reilly beat a sliding Thomas to cut the lead in half. O'Reilly's shot seemed to catch a piece of Gilbert on its way to the net. P.A. Parenteau and Cory Sarich collected helpers on the even-strength goal.
Tom Gilbert would pick up assist number three of the night, indirectly finding an open Tomas Kopecky off a fortuitous carom to make it 3-1 Panthers later in the frame. Tim Thomas was awarded the secondary assist on the goal. Kopecky has now scored in consecutive games after opening the campaign with no goals in his first nineteen games.
Jonathan Huberdeau picked up a loose puck in the slot and put the game away with his fifth goal of the season at the 12:16 mark of the third period. A driving Nick Bjugstad continued his recent scoring binge, collecting his fifth assist on the play. Brian Campbell also assisted on the goal to pick up up his second point of the night.
The first meeting of the top two picks in the 2013 Entry Draft wound up advantage Nathan MacKinnon from an individual standpoint. MacKinnon ended the tilt minus one, but finished with a game-high seven shots on goal. Aleksander Barkov had just a single shot on goal, however, the Panthers' youngster delivered a fine performance in the face-off circle, winning 9-of-11 draws.
I have to get to work, so I'll keep the observations short and let you lads and ladies take over in the comment section.
A lot to like in this one. The Cats got off to a fast start, forcing the Avs to take a few penalties in the first period with one of those carrying over into the second. Despite only getting the lone power-play goal by Campbell, being on the man-advantage helped the Panthers keep Colorado on their heels and maintain momentum. It was nice to see Florida not crumble after O'Reilly's tally made it 2-1. The Panthers kept working and got rewarded with the Kopecky goal. Huberdeau now has six points in his last eight outings, Bjugstad has five points in his last six. I know the future is bright for these two, but maybe, just maybe, that future is now. As long as Thomas stays healthy, it looks like he is going to play a lot and give the Cats a solid chance to win, provided they can keep from falling behind all the time and can come up with more than a goal or two during games. The Panthers' five victories have come against teams with winning records, proving they are indeed capable of doing better than what their record suggests.
Cats Win! Fire Away, Fire Away!