The first game back at home after a lengthy road trip is usually a tricky proposition for most NHL teams, and introducing three rusty players back into the lineup did the Florida Panthers no favors, as they were defeated by the Minnesota Wild 4-1 last night at the BB&T Center.
After Jimmy Hayes couldn't corral Nick Bjugstad's to get the puck out of the zone, Jason Zucker opened the scoring early in the first period. Zucker took a quick pass Mikko Koivu and beat Roberto Luongo five-hole at the 5:58 mark.
Later in the frame, Nino Niederreiter gathered in a loose puck in the neutral zone that Willie Mitchell failed to control, broke in on Luongo and fired high into the Panthers' cage to give the Wild a 2-0 advantage.
Shawn Thornton gave the Panthers life in the second period with his first goal in a Florida uniform. Thornton knocked Dmitry Kulikov's high shot out of the air and into the Minnesota net. The goal went to a lengthy review, but stood up to cut the Wild's lead in half.
The Cats had a great chance to tie the game five minutes later when Scottie Upshall got loose shorthanded, but his bid for glory was denied by the Wild's Niklas Backstrom and Uppy couldn't quite gather in the tantalizing rebound.
Koivu and Zucker combined again to restore Minnesota's two-goal advantage at 17:19 of the stanza. Zucker got his second of the night, and eighth of the season, when he stuffed a backhander past a woozy Brother Louie, who had taken some contact just prior.
Despite upping the attack on Backstrom with 16 shots in the final frame, the Panthers could draw no closer and Zach Parise finished them off with an empty-netter with 1:29 left. Jason Pominville and Ryan Suter picked up the helpers on Parise's clincher. Game, set, and match Wild.
Throwing out the last minute heroics in Nashville, the Panthers delivered a second straight sub par performance. The visiting Wild dominated the Cats over the first two periods much like the Predators did for the first 59 minutes on Saturday night in Music City. The Panthers inserted a trio of previously injured forwards back into the lineup and the reshuffled lines produced nothing. Florida was sloppy defensively on Minnesota first three goals and did themselves no favors momentum-wise by taking three penalties during the opening period. The PK did do it's job by going a perfect three for three on the night. The Carolina Hurricanes are up next on Wednesday, and the Panthers will need to come with a better effort to avoid falling back to the .500 mark.
Odds & Ends
- The loss dropped the Panthers' record at home to 3-4-1. The Cats are a good enough outfit on the road, but they need to find a way to make that translate to games at the BB&T Center.
- Nino Niederreiter bagged his 10th goal and 13th point in the last 15 games; en fuego.
- Roberto Luongo turned aside 35 shots and kept the Panthers within striking distance for most of the night. Another solid outing for the Cats' main man in net.
- Tough night for veteran defender Willie Mitchell, a one-time member of the Wild, who finished the game with a -3 rating.
- Speaking of minuses, the reunited Killer B's combined to go -6 on the night. Maybe it doesn't feel so good after all, Peaches & Herb.
- Niklas Backstrom upped his record to 3-2-2 with the 29-save performance.
- After missing a whopping ten games, Sean Bergenheim led the Panthers in shots on goal with five.
- With the Cats nearly back at full health, Tomas Fleischmann, Vincent Trocheck and Dylan Olsen were the scratches. I'd expect Olsen to be back on the ice come Wednesday evening.
- For more on the game, go and get yourself lost in the vastness of Hockey Wilderness.