The Florida Panthers almost pulled off the NHL equivalent of the Music City Miracle.. almost. After getting completely dominated by the Nashville Predators for much of the game, the scrappy Cats rallied with two goals twelve seconds apart in the final minute of regulation to send the game to overtime. The Predators ultimately prevailed 3-2 when rookie sensation Filip Forsberg beat Roberto Luongo in the fourth round of the shootout.
Rocco Grimaldi scored his first NHL goal at the 19:17 mark of the third period to halve Florida's 2-0 deficit. Grimaldi pounded home the rebound of a desperate Brian Campbell attempt to provide the Cats with a late, but much-needed spark. Rookie defender Aaron Ekblad got the second assist for his 11th point of the season.
Seconds later, Nick Bjugstad dusted off his shiny new Superman cape and fired the rebound of a blocked Jimmy Hayes bid past Pekka Rinne to send the game to overtime. The sophomore center finished Florida's four-game road trip with an astounding 5 goals and 3 assists. Oh yeah, he also bagged the shootout winner against San Jose Thursday night.
Luongo was absolutely stellar for the Panthers, finishing the game with 48 saves over the first 65 minutes and stopping the first three Predator shooters in the shootout before finally yielding to the slick Forsberg. Brother Louie's been really good this season, but this might have been his best effort so far.
Nashville built their two-goal advantage on a late second period tally from Colin Wilson, who deflected a pass off Dylan Olsen and Luongo into the net, and a third period strike by Matt Cullen, who finished off a centering feed from Derek Roy.
The tired Panthers got off to slow start and looked badly outclassed for long stretches, but ended up putting 30 shots on Rinne. The Nashville keeper absolutely robbed Hayes from in close in the third period and got lucky when Grimaldi hit a streaking Jussi Jokinen, who rang the puck off both posts.
Rinne stopped Jonathan Huberdeau, Jokinen, Bjugstad and Brad Boyes in the shootout to help the deserving Predators claim the bonus point.
Despite getting badly outplayed for the most part, props have to go to the Panthers for not folding their tent and hanging around long enough to somehow pull a point out of this one. A lot of the credit goes to Luongo, who stayed razor sharp even though it looked like the Cats were destined to suffer a shutout loss, and made save after save after save to keep Nashville from building an insurmountable advantage. Lu even stoned Forsberg in overtime on what looked like a sure rebound goal to get the game to the shootout. The Cats' PK came up big too, killing off a crucial 5-on-3 early in the third period. Offensively the Panthers did look out a bit out of synch, but at the end of a four-game road trip that's not too surprising. They did pick things up in third period to capture another point to bring back home to Sunrise, and again served notice that most nights it's going to take a full effort from the opposition to pin a loss on them.
Kibbles & Bits
- The Panthers finished up the tough trek out west with a 2-1-1 record. I'll take 5 out of 8 points any time, any place.
- With the win, Pekka Rinne raised his record to 13-3-1 on the season. A healthy Rinne means the Predators are very likely in the playoffs after a two-season absence.
- Nick Bjugstad continues to shine. He wasn't quite the force he was in California, but he did manage to notch the game-tying goal to extend his scoring streak to four games, and may very well of had the winner if not for a smart, quick poke-check by Rinne in the shootout.
- In addition to his shootout winner, Filip Forsberg had 9 shots on goal. It's early yet, but the young Swede might want to start making room for the Calder in his trophy case.
- Bjugstad's goal was the Panthers' 40th of the season, making them the last team to hit that mark. Watch out Winnipeg (43), we're coming for you.
- Craig Smith was also very involved for the home side. The veteran forward fired 8 shots on Luongo and picked up an assist on Colin Wilson's goal.
- Shawn Thornton filled in for the missing Scottie Upshall as the Panthers' man in the box. Thornton took a cross-checking minor in the first and was nabbed holding Taylor Beck's stick in the third.
- Get a little bit country and give the excellent On The Forecheck a visit for more on the cat fight.