If the Florida Panthers were to sneak into the playoffs and make an improbable 1996-style run to the Stanley Cup Finals, the Anaheim Ducks might be their opponent of choice. The Cats gashed the Ducks by a 6-2 count for the second time this season to move within four points of the Boston Bruins for the final playoff spot in the east. Jonathan Huberdeau dished out three helpers to help power Florida's offensive explosion.
The Cats took advantage of four penalty calls on the visiting Ducks in the opening period to jump out to a 2-0 lead.
Dmitry Kulikov picked up the first power-play goal. Kulikov one-timed a pass from Brian Campbell past Ducks starter Ilya Bryzgalov at the 5:31 mark. Dave Bolland picked up the secondary assist.
Later in the frame, with the Cats enjoying a 5-on-3 advantage, Nick Bjugstad lit the lamp with the assists going to Jimmy Hayes and Huberdeau. Hayes neatly deflected a Huberdeau pass to Bjugstad, who gathered the puck off his skate and fired it home for his team-leading eighteenth goal.
The Cats would dent Bryzgalov one more time 5:37 into the second period. After taking a pass from Campbell, a determined Huberdeau fought through a check to start a Panthers' rush and found Aaron Ekblad cruising down the slot. Ekblad lit the lamp for his ninth goal and thirty-first point of the season.
Forty seconds later, Steven Kampfer and Bjugstad both got sent to the sin bin, giving Anaheim a 5-on-3 advantage. The Ducks decided to pull Bryzgalov in favor of John Gibson, just up from Norfolk, to buy a little time before the power play started.
The move paid off when Kyle Palmieri easily put Rickard Rakell's rebound by Roberto Luongo.
Florida killed off the rest of power play and went back ahead by three when Brad Boyes sprung Aleksander Barkov at the blue line with a crisp pass. Barkov skated in on Gibson and beat him with a slick backhand move. Huberdeau picked up the second assist on Barkov's eighth of the campaign.
The onslaught continued 22 seconds later. Erik Gudbranson sent Tomas Fleischmann and Bolland into the Anaheim zone 2-on-1, Gibson stopped Fleischmann's initial drive, but Bolland was there to knock in the rebound.
Luongo surrendered a second goal to the Ducks when Tim Jackman's harmless dump-in ended up bouncing over the embarrassed netminder's pads.
Hayes completed the scoring with a power-play goal at 12:44 of the final frame. Kampfer put a shot on net after collecting a Gudbranson rebound, and Hayes was there to put it past Gibson. The assist was Kampfer's first point as a Panther.
The Cats finished the tough three-game homestand with an impressive five out of a possible six points. Florida will visit the Minnesota Wild and Dallas Stars before returning to Sunrise to face the St. Louis Blues on Sunday afternoon.
Bills & Feet
- Ten of the Panthers' eighteen skaters finished with plus ratings. The other eight were even. The only minus in the game was Brandon Pirri leaving with an upper-body injury early in the first period.
- Tomas Fleischmann's second period helper was his 300th point in the NHL.
- Huge gaffe aside, Roberto Loungo had a very solid game for the Cats, particularly in the first period when he stopped all 11 shots he faced. Brother Louie finished with 31 saves and passed the 23,000 mark for his career.
- Jonathan Huberdeau leads the Panthers with seven multi-point games this season. His next goal or assist will establish a new-career high.
- Speaking of multi-point games, Brian Campbell now has two, both against the Ducks.
- Anaheim really missed Frederik Andersen last night. Ilya Brzygalov gave up 3 goals on just 8 shots while John Gibson stopped 15 of the 18 shots he saw in relief.
- Aaron Ekblad's goal gave him 31 points. One more and he will pass the trio of Jim Benning, Doug Bodger and Petr Svoboda to be all alone in third place for most points by an 18-year-old defenseman. Eggs could pass the legend-wait for it-ary Bobby Orr (41) for second place by the end of the campaign. (I know he's 19 now people, he is considered an 18-year-old all season for the record books.)
- In addition to his second period goal, Kyle Palmieri fired a game-high seven shots on goal.
- Florida's power play matched a season-high with 3 goals on a whopping 8 opportunities.
- For more on the Panthers latest fricasseeing of the Ducks, you can check out Anaheim Calling and Battle Of California. Feel free to gloat a bit.