The Florida Panthers continued their recent trend of winning in buildings that have given them loads of trouble in the past. This time, the Cats ripped the New Jersey Devils by a 5-1 count, snapping an eight-game skid, including playoffs, in the wretched hive of scum and villainy known as the Garden State, and drawing the two clubs even in the Eastern Conference wildcard race. Both teams are now 16-12-4, but the Devils currently hold the ROW tiebreaker. The odds of the Cats navigating their way to a win in a New Jersey coming into the game were approximately 3,720 to one.
Jussi Jokinen opened the scoring at 9:32 of the first period. The veteran Finn used the Force to find space between a quartet of Devils, accelerated to attack speed, and fired a laser beam by Cory Schneider. The power-play goal was set up by Brandon Pirri and Vincent Trocheck, who drew a tripping minor on Lee Stempniak to give the Cats the man-advantage.
Dmitry Kulikov added to the lead 2:28 later with his first goal of the season. The Russian defenseman would trust his instincts and beat Schneider like a rented womp rat up high from the right circle to cap off the sharp passing of Jaromir Jagr and Brian Campbell. Kulikov hadn't scored since March 5th, a span of 42 games.
Al Montoya only had to face six shots in the opening twenty, but he kept a clean sheet with a big save on Jiri Tlusty's redirection bid late in the frame.
The Cats went up by three early in the second period when Pirri collected a loose puck, after padawan Logan Shaw had his shot blocked by teammate Corban "Jedi" Knight, and quickly beat Schneider for his seventh goal. The assists were first in the NHL careers of both Knight and Shaw.
That was the only goal of a middle stanza that saw the Panthers test Schneider fourteen items. Montoya continued his season-long run of fine play, gobbling up seven more shots like a hungry sarlacc in the Great Pit of Carkoon in a bid for his first shutout in Florida robes.
The Panthers kept pouring it on the third, with Reilly Smith being the fourth Cat of the night to dent the twine. Smith bagged his tenth, from Trocheck and Jokinen, with a garbage smasher goal at the 7:28 mark.
Sergey Kalinin tapped into the power of the Dark Side to finally get the Devils on the board with a power-play goal with 6:22 left in regulation time. Kyle Palmieri ripped a one-timer after taking a pass from David Schlemko and the puck went off Kalinin and by a helpless Montoya. Dylan Olsen was the guilty Panther in the box for interfering with Jordin Tootoo.
The circle was complete, and the Cats were New Jersey's master, when Shaw blew this thing with an empty-net, slap shot goal from center ice at 15:16 to the send the Panthers on their way to Carolina with a second straight road win. Shaw's third career tally was assisted by Pirri and Knight, who has been impressive... most impressive in two games since being recalled from Portland to replace the injured Derek MacKenzie.
Jawas & Droids
- The win gave Florida a 7-3 record in its last ten games. The Cats are now 9-6-2 on the road. They need to bring some of that magic back to the BB&T Center after tonight's stop in Raleigh.
- Winger Brandon Pirri has points in five straight games. The 24-year-old has two goals and five helpers during the hot streak.
- The Panthers got goals from five different players with three of those players (Pirri, Shaw and Jokinen) adding at least one assist (Pirri had two). Corban Knight and Vincent Trocheck also had multi-point games with two assists each.
- Jussi Jokinen followed up his two-point game in Brooklyn with another in Newark to claim the club scoring lead with 23 points.
- Veteran tough guy Shawn Thornton didn't pick up a point, but he was the only Panther to register three shots on goal.
- The Devils top line of Adam Henrique, Lee Stempniak and Mike Cammalleri went a combined minus-nine on the evening.
- Al Montoya finished with 15 stops to raise his record to 5-1-1 and lower his GAA to a minuscule 1.79. His counterpart, R2D2... I mean Cory Schneider, turned away 21 of the 25 shots he faced.
- The 16 shots allowed by the Cats' defense was the lowest total of the season thus far.
- war-on-ice has all the advanced stats goodness for you right here. It's like a good mug of Corellian ale, it is.
- Set a course for the Hoth system and stop by All About The Jersey for more on the Panthers striking back at the Devils.
- May the Force be with you. Always.
Highlights (courtesy of Leia Organa)