For forty minutes the Florida Panthers did enough to build a two-goal lead over the Nashville Predators, who are now the NHL's top team. The game Cats even went out and dominated the visiting Predators in third, outshooting them by a staggering 15-4 margin. Unfortunately, penalties from fourth-liners Derek MacKenzie and Tomas Kopecky put Nashville on the power play twice and the Predators made them pay, rallying to tie the game before winning 3-2 on Filip Forsberg's fourth-round shootout goal. Forsberg bagged the game-tying goal with 4:43 left to send the tilt to overtime.
The game was a duel between locked-in goaltenders Roberto Luongo and Predators' backup Carter Hutton until Tomas Fleischmann broke the ice at the 8:37 mark of the second period. Flash worked a quick give-and-go with Dave Bolland after a bad turnover by Matt Cullen and fired high on Hutton for his sixth goal of the season.
Florida kept coming and took a two-goal advantage when rookie phenom Aaron Ekblad bagged his eighth goal. After getting tripped by Seth Jones on a rush, Ekblad got up and headed to the front of the net and converted after Jimmy Hayes worked the puck in front of the cage.
Unfortunately, the Panthers couldn't add to their lead and drive the final nail in Nashville's coffin.
The Predators finally dented Luongo 4:44 into the third period after MacKenzie was called for hooking Cullen. Jones got the goal with an absolute bomb from the blue line. Mike Ribeiro drew the lone assist on the power-play tally.
Florida got a chance to put the Preds away midway through the frame when Jones was sent off for holding, but the Cats power play came up empty for the third time in the game. Hutton was razor-sharp in denying both Jussi Jokinen and Brad Boyes on rebounds of a Brandon Pirri bid.
Nashville has a rookie phenom of their own, and Forsberg tied the game a few minutes later with Kopecky in the box for slashing. The rookie scoring leader collected the loose puck after a shot from the point deflected off Mike Fisher and bounced around the slot and whipped it by Luongo's blocker.
After a scoreless overtime that saw the Panthers outshoot the Predators 3-2, the game went to the skills competition. Boyes and Nick Bjugstad converted for the Panthers to match goals from Cullen and Craig Smith. In the fourth round, Gerard Gallant somewhat surprisingly tabbed Bolland as the Cats' shooter and he put it right into pads of Hutton. Forsberg was up next, and he easily beat Luongo to give Nashville the bonus point and push them past the Anaheim Ducks into the league's top spot.
The Panthers did gain a point on the Boston Bruins, who were beaten by Montreal, to close the gap to six with two games in hand. However, the one that got away is another that could come back to haunt the Cats later in the season.
Odds & Sods
- Not sure how the refs missed an obvious spearing call on Mr. Carrie Underwood, but on the bright side, Erik Gudbranson can now sing soprano.
- Brandon Pirri led the Panthers with six shots on goal and bailed out Roberto Luongo with a big block late in the first period. Unfortunately, Pirri saw his four-game goal scoring binge came to end. Definitely was not for lack of trying.
- Aaron Ekblad's goal gave him an even thirty points on the season. He is two points away from passing Jim Benning, Doug Bodger and Petr Svoboda to move into third place for the most points ever by an 18-year-old defenseman.
- Carter Hutton finished with 34 saves to raise his record to 5-4-4 on the season.
- Tomas Fleischmann's second period goal extended his point streak to three games. Flash is looking good on the third line with Dave Bolland and Pirri.
- Roberto Luongo delivered another quality start, but his effort in the shootout left a lot to be desired. Luongo finished the first sixty-five minutes of action with 25 stops.
- The Panthers gave the league-leading Predators all they could handle, but Nashville took both games in the season-series 3-2 in the shootout.
- For more on yesterday's cat fight, visit On The Forecheck.