The Florida Panthers dug themselves another early hole, falling behind 2-0 in the first period, that they couldn't get out of, leading to a 4-1 loss to the red-hot Columbus Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena to conclude their four-game road trip. After opening the trek with a stirring 5-4 comeback win over the Detroit Red Wings, the Cats dropped the last three in ugly fashion, getting outscored 16-6 in the process
Columbus young guns Ryan Johansen and Boone Jenner did the early damage for the Blue Jackets.
Johansen, who had run out of real estate, threw the puck in front through a sprawled Tim Thomas that the veteran goaltender almost corralled, and an open Jenner poked it home for his ninth goal at the 15:33 mark.
The pair would combine for the second goal two-and-half minutes later, when Jenner made a sweet bubble hockey-style, spin-o-rama pass to Johansen who deflected the puck into a yawning net.
Former Panther forward Nathan Horton picked up the secondary assist on both goals.
Florida would get their dander up in the second period, outshooting the Jackets 8-1, and cut the deficit in half when Brad Boyes notched his fifteenth goal of the season. Boyes' pass attempt went off Columbus defenseman David Savard's stick on its way past Sergei Bobrovsky. Brian Campbell and Scottie Upshall picked up the helpers.
The Cats would come within a whisker of evening the tilt, but Nick Bjugstad's drive found iron instead of the back of the net.
Nick Foligno would restore the Blue Jackets two-goal advantage later in the frame by taking a pass from Nikita Nikitin and firing a quick shot that leaked through Thomas' pads.
The Panthers continued to test Bobrovsky, who finished with 35 saves, but they couldn't beat the Russian keeper again to close the gap.
Mark Letestu completed the scoring midway through the final period from Corey Tropp and Derek MacKenzie. Game, set, match Blue Jackets.
After getting blown out in their last two, the Cats put up a better fight in this one. Falling behind in the opening period is not a winning a formula, but the Panthers did try hard to rally. Unfortunately, they were done in by their lack of finishing ability and an opportunistic Columbus offense, which benefitted from a couple of no-look passes and a puck that just squeaked by Thomas. After looking like road warriors in December and for much of January (7-4-1 before this trip), the wheels have come off, with the Cats looking unconfident and extremely soft in their own end. Florida is downright mediocre at home, so if they've now lost the ability to play solid hockey on the road, its hard to see them picking up too many points the rest of the way. The Panthers have a couple days off to lick their wounds before they play host to the Toronto on Tuesday and Detroit on Thursday. Florida's final game before the Olympic break will be on Friday night, in Raleigh, against the Carolina Hurricanes. Wins are needed in this trio, badly.
Odds & Ends
- Winger Brad Boyes is hot again. The veteran now has a point in each of Florida's last four games (3G/1A), and is on pace for his first twenty-goal season since 2008-09, when he scored 33 for the St. Louis Blues.
- The win was the Columbus' sixth straight over the Panthers. The last time Florida silenced the Cannon was a 5-2 decision all the way back on November 22, 2007. Hmmm, maybe the Blue Jackets should head back to the Western Conference.
- Last year's Vezina winner Sergei Bobrovsky is a sizzling 11-2 in his last thirteen starts.
- Tim Thomas stopped 22 shots, and came painfully close to stopping two others, which would have given the Cats a better shot. The Panthers need a little more from Thomas, who hasn't been particularly sharp in his last three outings. The strain of playing behind this bunch might be finally starting to wear on TT.
- Rookie Aleksander Barkov returned to the lineup after a four-game absence. Barkov looked a little rusty and finished with a -2 rating and no shots on goal.
- Drew Shore was sent back to San Antonio to make room for Barkov. Shore didn't have to clear waivers and will get to keep working on his game in the AHL during the Olympic break. He should be back for good at some point in the near future (he's earned it), once the Cats clear some veteran flotsam and jetsam from the roster.
- Columbus drew a pretty good crowd, considering they have struggled at the gate and were hosting the Panthers, of 16,762 last night. Hopefully, the team's improved play can finally captivate the long-suffering market in the Ohio capital.
- The loss coupled with Philadelphia's shutout win over Los Angeles put the Panthers 11 points out in the race for the Eastern Conference's final wildcard spot. It's getting awfully close to fork-sticking time.
- Throw on your best blue morning jacket and load up The Cannon for more on last night's action.