The more things change, the more they stay the same. With Dan Ellis in for injured goaltenders Roberto Luongo and Al Montoya, and Jaromir Jagr, Erik Gudbranson and Willie Mitchell (finally slated to return) all out with the flu, the Florida Panthers got off to yet another terrible start, and showed that same old troubling lack of killer instinct after rallying to take the lead, in a roller coaster 4-3 shootout loss to the Dallas Stars.
The Stars jumped the Cats early to open the scoring. After Jonathan Huberdeau failed to get the puck past his own blue line, Jason Demers and Shawn Horcoff played a little give-and-go before Demers found a ready-and-waiting Curtis McKenzie for a deflection goal at the 2:33 mark.
About ten minutes later, McKenzie stepped to Dmitry Kulikov for his low hit on Tyler Seguin the last time the clubs met in Big D. Kulikov took his medicine like a man and the two teams put the incident behind them and got back to business.
The Stars added to their lead seventeen seconds after the fight when Horcoff's pass attempt on a 2-on-1 break deflected off Brian Campbell's ladle and flew by a helpless Ellis.
With the specter of a blowout looming, the Panthers got one back to turn the tide. Vincent Trocheck caught the Stars in a line change and fed Brandon Pirri. The red-hot Pirri skated in and beat Kari Lehtonen five-hole for his thirteenth goal of the season.
Florida battled back to tie the game at 8:15 of the second period. After serving a holding minor, Kulikov came out of the box and took a gorgeous breakaway pass from Jussi Jokinen. The Russian defender moved in on Lehtonen and snapped a wrister past the veteran goaltender, who got a piece of the puck, but could not keep it out of the net. Jokinen picked up his team-leading twenty-ninth helper on the play.
Kulikov completed his "Gordie Howe Hat Trick" by stealing the puck in the Cats' zone and sending a long pass to Nick Bjugstad. The long, tall Panther in a red sweat sent Huberdeau in on Lehtonen and the third-year winger whipped the puck through his legs, sending him to the bench.
Former Buffalo Sabre Jhonas Enroth entered the game and made a huge stop on Bjugstad late in the stanza to keep the Stars within striking distance.
The Cats took a passive approach to the third period, mustering only two shots on goal and failing to convert a power-play opportunity, and it ended up costing them.
Ellis denied Dallas' Alex Goligoski on a breakaway bid, but the blueliner had the last laugh a few minutes later when he sent a shot sailing past the Panthers' screened number three net option to even the affair. John Klingberg picked up the lone assist and passed Aaron Ekblad as the NHL scoring leader among rookie defenseman.
The pace picked back up in overtime, with Ellis making a nice stop on Ales Hemsky and Enroth robbing Steven Kampfer from in close, but the five-minute extra session failed to produce a knockout.
The goalies ruled the first two round of the shootout with Enroth denying Pirri and Trocheck and Ellis stopping Jason Spezza and Klingberg.
Bjugstad went first in round three and missed the net, setting the stage for Colton Sceviour's pretty backhand winner.
Hats off to Ellis, who finished with 29 stops in his first NHL start of the year, to get the Panthers a point. He deserved better from his mates. Yes, I know the Panthers were shorthanded, but the bad start and lackluster third period had little to nothing to do with the missing players.
The Cats stayed two points behind Boston, who also lost in shootout, in the chase for the Eastern Conference's second Wild Card spot. Florida will take on the New York Islanders next, Saturday night at the BB&T Center.
Odds & Sods
- Dan Ellis got the start against Dallas exactly one year after the Stars traded him to the Panthers.
- Nick Bjugstad's helper gave him a career-high 39 points with a lot of season left to go.
- Jhonas Enroth is now a perfect 6-0 in shootouts this season, surrendering just one goal in twenty-four rounds. That's pretty unbelievable stuff.
- Brandon Pirri, who paced the Cats with four shots, has ten goals and one assist in his last thirteen outings. Too bad the young sniper has missed so much time this season.
- Jonathan Huberdeau's goal was his first since he lit the lamp in a 3-2 win over Columbus on January 29. Huberdeau has five points in the last three games.
- Dallas starter Kari Lehtonen gave up three goals on fourteen shots before getting the hook.
- Rookie defenseman Alex Petrovic dished out a team-high five hits and came close to netting his first career goal in the bigs.
- The Panthers dropped to 6-10 in shootouts this season. Man, could we use a few of those lost bonus points right now.
- Defending Big D has the other side of the Stars latest win over the Cats.