Nothing ever comes easy for the Florida Panthers. The Cats blew a 4-2 lead late in the third period before Tomas Kopecky scored in the sixth round of the shootout to give the home side a 5-4 win over the Nashville Predators in captain Ed Jovanovski's return to the lineup. The victory allowed the Panthers to finish its holiday homestand with a 2-2-1 record.
In his first game since March 16th, the JovoCop logged close to sixteen minutes of ice time and finished the game with an impressive +3 rating.
After Craig Smith gave Nashville an early 1-0 lead, the hot Boyes-Barkov-Bergenheim line struck for the Panthers at 11:03 of the first period to even the game. Brad Boyes jammed the puck under Predators keeper Marek Mazanec from in close, with the assists going to Aleksander Barkov and defenseman Tom Gilbert.
The Panthers grabbed their first lead later in the frame when Tomas Kopecky knocked in a rebound of a Marcel Goc shot, which bounced off the side of the net, and then Mattias Ekholm's skate before coming out in front, for his fourth goal of the season. New linemate Jonathan Huberdeau also picked up a helper on the play.
The score remained 2-1 Florida until Mike Fisher beat Tim Thomas to tie the game late in the second period. Patric Hornqvist worked over Dmitry Kulikov, forcing a turnover to Colin Wilson, who slickly fed Fisher for the goal.
The Panthers "B" line restored the lead a mere 57 seconds later when Sean Bergenheim, after fanning on a shot, took a nifty little pass in front from Barkov and fired home his ninth goal. Boyes tallied his second point of the night with the secondary assist.
Florida extended its lead to two at 1:34 of the third frame, when Huberdeau set up Marcel Goc's eighth, courtesy of a bad turnover from Nashville rookie Seth Jones.
The Panthers would hold the lead until the 14:52 mark, when Jones atoned for his earlier mistake by blasting the puck past Thomas for his first goal in twenty games. The play was set up impressively by Roman Josi, who gained the zone, went around Mike Weaver, and circled the net before finding Jones open high in the slot.
Nashville keep coming and finally tied the game after they pulled Mazanec for the extra-attacker. Paul Gaustad swept in Shea Weber's shot, which got through Thomas, with 48 seconds left to send the game to overtime.
The Predators carried the play in the extra frame, but Thomas turned aside all four Nashville shots to finish the first 65 minutes of action with 38 saves.
After David Legwand and Huberdeau scored in the second round of the shootout, Kopecky finally won it in the sixth with a shot up high over Mazanec's glove.
Odds & Ends
- After yielding the two late goals, Tim Thomas was money after regulation. Thomas stopped four shots in overtime and only surrendered one goal in the six-round shootout to post his tenth win of the season.
- Message received. Jonathan Huberdeau was demoted to third line duty and the move by coach Peter Horachek paid off. Hubderdeau picked up two assists and scored the Panthers other goal in the shootout. New linemates Kopecky (5 games) and Goc (10 games) ended goal-scoring droughts.
- Props to Horachek for picking up the win in his first try coaching against Nashvillle, an organization he worked ten years for before being let go last season. Had to feel good for Horachek to get the best of mentor Barry Trotz.
- Brad Boyes' goal was his team-leading eleventh, one more than his total over last season's lockout-shortened 48-game schedule with the New York Islanders. Boyes is on pace to have his best goal-scoring campaign since 2008-09.
- Aleksander Barkov continues to pile up the points. His two assists gave him the team scoring lead with 21 points. After snapping an eight-game cold spell, the 18-year-old rookie has eleven points in his last eleven games.
- Mike Fisher's goal gave Carrie Underwood's husband nine points in his last four games. Fisher always seems to do damage against the Panthers.
- In addition to Jovanovski, Scottie Upshall returned to action last night. Upshall played close to 18 minutes and finished with 2 shots on goal.
- After holding their last two opponents to a single goal each in regulation, the Panthers defense suffered a set back, surrendering 4 goals and a whopping 42 shots to the offensively-challenged Predators. A tighter approach is going to be needed with the team spending much of January on the road.
- Toronto was shelled 7-1 at home last night by the New York Rangers. That loss, coupled with Detroit's 5-1 win over the Dallas Stars, dropped the Maple Leafs down a peg in the playoff race. The Panthers now trail the Buds for the Eastern Conference's final wildcard spot by nine points, with a game in hand.
- If you're a little bit country, check out the excellent On The Forecheck for the Nashville perspective on things.