After lighting the lamp six times against the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Florida Panthers offense could only produce a late game-tying goal from Nick Bjugstad as the Cats fell 2-1 in a shootout to the visiting Montreal Canadiens in a gripping tilt at a sold out BB&T Center.
P.A. Parenteau scored the shootout's only goal in round three and backup goaltender Dustin Tokarski stopped Jonathan Huberdeau to give Montreal the win. Tokarski also denied Vincent Trocheck and forced a miss from Bjugstad, while Roberto Luongo denied Alex Galchenyuk and David Desharnais before yielding to the deadly Parenteau.
Tokarski, making his first start since November 29, finished with 36 saves, while Luongo made 33 stops in the exciting goaltenders duel.
The Panthers had won four straight games on home ice, but settled for a single point when Bjugstad tied the game with 1:49 remaining in regulation time. The sophomore pivot was able to shovel the puck over Tokarski's glove for his team-leading 13th goal with rookie Aaron Ekblad and Huberdeau collecting the helpers.
The only goal Luongo surrendered in regulation was to Brendan Gallagher late in the second period. The shot was the final one of 20-shot barrage the Canadiens threw at the veteran netminder during a wide-open frame that saw the Panthers fire 14 at Torkarski.
Snake-bitten center Aleksander Barkov had a goal waved off early in the second and then hit the cross bar later in the period. Barkov has not found the back of the net since November 11.
The Panthers dominated the third period, outshooting the Habs 14-4, but could only come up with the goal that sent the game to overtime, where Jimmy Hayes came tantalizingly close to winning it, but somehow sent the puck wide of an empty net after a Tokarski misplay.
While it would have great to see the Cats post a third straight win on this important holiday homestand, they gave the Eastern Conference's top team all they could handle and came away with another point. Florida out-shot, out-hit, had more takeaways and won the war in the face-off circle; they just couldn't solve Tokarski until the game was almost over. Then the Habs backup stymied them in the skills competition, denying the Panthers a fifth straight shootout decision. Expect the Cats to stay hungry and bring another big effort for tonight's 2014 closer against the New York Rangers. The Rangers hold the final Wild Card in the east, just one point ahead of the Panthers.
Odds & Ends
- The Panthers have now collected points in eight straight games at the BB&T. The last time they lost in regulation at home was on November 24, a 4-1 defeat to the Minnesota Wild.
- Aaron Ekblad's assist moved him past Zach Bogosian and Joe Cirella on the list for most points in a season by an 18-year-old defenseman. Ekblad's 20 points currently place him 10th all-time. Up next, Al Iafrate and Roman Hamrlik, who each posted 21.
- P.A. Parenteau is now for 4 for 6 in the shootout this season. All four of his goals have been game-winner. That's money.
- Florida's power play, which produced the winning goal against Toronto, failed on all three chances against the Habs.
- In addition to almost ending his long goal-scoring drought, Aleksander Barkov tied Bjugstad with a team-high four shots and went a strong 11/16 in the face-off circle.
- Montreal remained undefeated when scoring first this season.
- With last night's point, the Panthers tied the franchise record of 17 for the month of December.
- Stop by Eyes On The Prize for more Cats-Habs.