The Florida Panthers survived a 21-shot first period barrage, and managed to hang with the powerful San Jose Sharks for about 45 minutes, before the boys from the Bay Area potted two in the final frame en route to a solid 3-0 road win.
The Cats got off to a good start in the early part of the opening period, but failed to convert on Sharks backup Alex Stalock. San Jose tilted the ice for the final 15 minutes of the stanza and assaulted the Panthers' cage to no avail.
Tim Thomas was downright stupendous during the first period, and the hard-working Cats came up with some timely defensive plays, while also managing to kill off a 1:29 Sharks 5-on-3 advantage, to keep the game scoreless.
Florida came out with a stronger effort in the second and ended up outshooting San Jose by an 11-7 margin. Unfortunately, the Sharks came up with the period's only goal when Joe Thornton got loose on a breakaway and chipped a floater past Thomas, who finished with 36 saves, with 51 seconds remaining. Brent Burns sprung Thornton with a nifty pass off the boards.
After Thomas denied Matt Nieto on another breakaway early in the third, the Panthers came tantalizingly close to tying the game at the 4:33 mark. Unfortunately, Scottie Upshall, after taking a sweet feed from Tomas Fleischmann, was absolutely robbed by the pad of Stalock.
On the ensuing Sharks rush, Nieto punched in a Tyler Kennedy rebound to give San Jose an insurmountable two-goal lead. The tally was the third of the season for the 21-year-old California native.
This one was akin to watching a middleweight go up against a heavyweight. Bolstered by the netminding of Thomas, the scrappy Cats put up a pretty decent fight against the superior Sharks for two-plus periods, until the Nieto goal sapped any remaining resistance. The outmatched Panthers only mustered five shots in the final frame as the Sharks cruised to the win. Florida gets a chance at redemption and two points Saturday night, when they kick off a three-game road trip in Raleigh against the Carolina Hurricanes.
Odds & Ends
- The shutout was the first of Alex Stalock's nascent NHL career. It only took the 26-year-old fourteen big-league games to post his first whitewashing. Stalock raised his record to 6-2 and lowered his GAA to a miniscule 1.80.
- Florida's special team units continued their respective recent trends. The toothless power play went 0 for 3, while the red-hot PK killed off all four San Jose chances. The Panthers have yet to score a power-play goal in 2014.
- Once again, the Panthers failed to build on a win. The Cats have not won back-to-back games since they beat the Senators on December 19th to follow up a win over the Toronto two days earlier. Those tilts were part of a five-game Florida winning streak.
- The victory was San Jose's first against the Cats since they took a 2-1 decision all the way back on October 31, 2006 at the then BankAtlantic Center.
- A disappointing crowd of only 13,149 showed up last night at the BB&T Center to see one of the NHL's better teams, on a night when the Heat weren't even in action. The Panthers continue to look like Coyotes East, and until they improve on the ice and at the box office, will be the media darlings of any relocation speculation.
- The Cats tried their best to stand up to the big, bad Sharks, outhitting them by a surprisingly wide 40-14 margin.
- Thomas' stellar play since returning from IR stint #3 has kept him in Olympic contention if one of the three current goaltenders on the roster gets injured.
- The Panthers will play seven of their next eight on the road. The club only has three games at home before the February Olympic break.
- If you don't need a bigger boat, check out Fear The Fin for more on last night's action.