Throwing out the embarrassing 6-1 loss to the Lightning in the opener, Florida Panthers fans have seen some pretty exciting hockey played on this holiday homestand. Unfortunately, the Cats came up a goal short last night as they closed out 2013 with a 2-1 shootout loss to the New York Rangers to fall to 1-2-1 over the first four of this current five-game run at the BB&T Center. Florida will welcome the Nashville Predators to town on Saturday before heading out on a three-game road trip.
Brad Richards notched the only goal of the skills competition in the third round, and then Henrik Lundqvist stoned Brad Boyes to allow the Rangers to leave Sunrise with the bonus point.
Boyes scored the only goal, his tenth, for the Cats at the 9:18 mark of the second period. Aleksander Barkov collected the lone helper for his seventh point in his last seven games with a quick feed after a New York turnover.
Tim Thomas, who stopped 30 shots in his long-awaited return from groin injury #3, was superb in making the lead stand up, until Dan Girardi scored with 2:10 remaining in the third period to tie the game. Tomas Kopecky helped the Rangers out by heading to the bench to retrieve a new stick at an inopportune moment, leaving Girardi an open lane to fire away on Thomas. The goal atoned for Girardi's giveaway that directly led to the Boyes marker.
Lundqvist finished with 21 saves and made stops on Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau in the shootout before denying Boyes.
The Panthers anemic power play, which went 0 for 4, failed to cash in on a key double-minor for high-sticking called on Richards at 7:47 of the third period. Another goal would have likely put the game away and given the Cats their second win in a row.
Odds & Ends
- Tim Thomas, playing in his 400th NHL game, was excellent last night and almost got the Panthers two points, despite the lack of goal support. With Thomas back, and looking sharp, and Scott Clemmensen's recent return to NHL-caliber play, the Cats' goaltending situation looks to be in very good hands the rest of the way, barring injury of course.
- While the power play sputtered again, the Cats' PK was perfect for the second straight game. That's a much-needed step in the right direction. Florida has killed off the last nine power plays they have faced.
- The Rangers swept all three games this season against the Panthers. At least we got to the shootout and claimed one point off them this time... ugh.
- Marc Staal returned from a ten-game absence, due to concussion, and logged over 23 minutes of ice time.
- With the loser point, the Panthers tied the franchise record with 17 points in December. The Cats finished the month off with an 8-5-1 record.
- Jonathan Huberdeau's sophomore slump continues. The talented forward has not picked up a point in the six games since he returned from a foot injury. His attempt in the shootout was easily foiled by a locked-in-looking Lundqvist. Hubs in on pace for a 30-point campaign after amassing 31 in only 48 games last season. A return to form from the slick 20-year-old is needed.
- Today's Winter Classic features Atlantic Division rivals Detroit and Toronto taking it outside. With both teams currently sitting at 45 points, 9 ahead of Florida, a regulation win for one of the clubs is the optimal result.
- Check out Blueshirt Banter for more on last night's result, and Happy New Year fellow LBCers!!! May 2014 bring us all good fortune and more wins from the Panthers.