Playing their last game before a twenty-day break for the Olympics, the Florida Panthers dropped a 5-1 decision to the Carolina Hurricanes in Raleigh last night. It was the Cats fourth straight loss on the road. Florida has been outscored by an ugly 21-7 margin in those four contests.
Riley Nash and Alexander Semin scored a 1:27 apart midway through the first period to stake the Hurricanes to a 2-0 lead that would hold up the rest of the way.
Nick Bjugstad netted the Panthers only goal by sweeping a shot past Anton Khudobin at the 15:30 mark for his thirteenth of the season. Dylan Olsen, who returned to the lineup after spending three games in the press box, and Scottie Upshall drew the assists.
Brett Bellemore beat Tim Thomas a few minutes later to restore the Canes two-goal advantage. Thomas finished the game with just ten saves on fourteen shots after getting yanked in the second period.
The Cats came out and were taking the play to the Canes in the early stages of the middle frame, until Ed Jovanovski's ill-advised pass attempt up middle in his own end. The errant pass hit Sean Bergenheim in the skate, causing him to fall to ice, and then came to Eric Staal, who quickly rifled the puck at Thomas. The veteran goaltender made a sparkling stop, but the rebound went off Erik Gudbranson's skate right to a wide-open Jiri Tlusty who deposited the puck into the empty net, sending Thomas to the bench.
Scott Clemmensen would come on in relief and do a fine job of mopping up, stopping 17 of the 18 shots he faced.
The Panthers had plenty of chances to close the gap but between their general lack of finishing ability, Khudobin, and the post, they would not light the lamp again.
Andrej Sekera closed out the scoring with a third period power-play goal from Jeff Skinner (his second assist) and Jordan Staal.
Gimme a break, I sure could use one... Thank goodness for the 20-day Olympic hiatus, because it's getting real hard to watch this team right now. After two games of tightening things up in their own end, the defensive breakdowns returned in spades last night. I lost count of how many times the Cats just gave away the puck in their zone for no reason or without much prompting from the Hurricanes. Carolina was just as sloppy, especially after going up by three. Another team would have made the Canes pay for the lackadaisical approach to closing out the game, but not the Panthers. They can't score, no matter how many open looks, power plays, or breakaway attempts they get. Hopefully, when the Cats return on February 27th, we'll see the team that thumped Toronto the other night, but I doubt it. With the Panthers out of the playoff chase, I have a feeling we will be seeing a lot more of what we witnessed last night.
Odds & Ends
- I hate to play armchair coach here, but with Tim Thomas not at his best lately and playing the night before, I really felt Peter Horachek should have given Scott Clemmensen the start in this one. The Clem-dog came in with a potentially ugly blowout brewing and gave the team a fighting chance to mount a comeback. Nothing against TT, but with the playoffs a pipe dream now, there is no reason for him to keep wearing himself out by making start after start after start. Enough already.
- In addition to his power-play goal, Andrej Sekera led the Canes with six shots on goal. Sekera now has a career-high 9 goals and 32 points. Good pick up by Carolina GM Jim Rutherford this offseason, real good.
- Nick Bjugstad has become one of the only Panther players I care about anymore. The kid shows up, plays hard and actually knows how to find the back of the net. Bjugsy led the Panthers with five shots and almost had a second goal, but was barely denied by Anton Khudodin.
- Khudobin ended up stopping 34 shots to raise his record to 13-5 and lower his GAA to 2.09. It was his sixteenth straight appearance for Carolina. He will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, and with the high-priced Cam Ward under contract for two more years, he could very well end up somewhere other than Raleigh. Khudobin definitely should be on Dale Tallon's radar this summer.
- Carolina is 30-7-4 all-time at PNC Arena against the Panthers. Yikes. Maybe the Cats should just start forfeiting their road games against the Canes.
- Hurricanes' leading-scorer Eric Staal finished the game +3 and his assist gave him 36 points in his last 35 games.
- Defenseman Dylan Olsen's turnover led to the Nash goal but he redeemed himself with a helper on Bjugstad's marker. Despite the mistake, Olsen needs to be playing over some of the Panthers deadweight veterans.
- For more on the game, head over to Canes Country.