The ailing Florida Panthers matched the Boston Bruins two-point effort earlier in the day with an exciting 4-3 shootout win over the New York Islanders to stay within striking distance of a playoff spot.
Dan Ellis, making his second straight start for injured goaltenders Roberto Luongo and Al Montoya, finished with 25 saves in the first sixty-five minutes of action and stopped all three Islanders he faced in the skills competition, making Jonathan Huberdeau's first-round stuff job stand up as the game-winner.
After their usual slow start, the Cats finally got things going after a hooking penalty on defenseman Travis Hamonic. The Panthers failed to score on the ensuing power play, but built some needed momentum and Erik Gudbranson lit the lamp soon after. Gudbranson threw the puck on net from the blue line and it somehow eluded New York starter Michal Neuvirth. The goal was the rugged defender's career-high fourth of the season.
The Islanders tied the game early in the second period after a bad turnover by center Nick Bjugstad. Bjugstad attempted to pass to Willie Mitchell, finally back after a long absence, but Anders Lee knocked it down. The puck found the dangerous John Tavares and he broke in on Ellis and beat him easily with a slick backhand move.
Bjugstad redeemed himself less than four minutes later. The long, tall Panther in a red sweat took a pass from behind the net from Jussi Jokinen and maneuvered around some traffic in front before flipping the biscuit by Neuvirth. Alex Petrovic picked up the secondary helper on Big Nick's twenty-third goal of the campaign.
A Vincent Trocheck high-sticking penalty with 4:23 left set the table for the Islanders and they quickly feasted on the Cats' penalty-kill unit. Nick Leddy drove the puck through a crowd, with some from help from a deflection off Scottie Upshall's stick, to beat Ellis, with Tavares and Frans Nielsen drawing the assists.
After a tentative start to the final frame, the Islanders picked up the pace and started buzzing Luongo, I mean Montoya, I mean Ellis, who kept the game tied with some solid net work, including a nice save on a Tavares blast.
The Panthers took back the lead at the 9:26 mark when Aleksander Barkov came storming over Islanders blue line and slipped the puck to Huberdeau, who worked his way into the slot before spinning around and firing past Neuvirth for his eleventh goal. Jaromir Jagr got the second assist, collecting his third point in four games with the Panthers.
After getting robbed by Ellis again, Tavares picked up his third point of the night by stealing the puck from Petrovic deep in the Florida zone and feeding Josh Bailey for a one-timer to forge a 3-3 tie with 7:12 remaining.
Brad Boyes had Florida's best chance in overtime, but after making a sweet move to create space, he shot high on Neuvirth. Ellis came up with a big stop on Nikolay Kulemin to get the Cats to the shootout.
After Ellis stopped Nielsen, Huberdeau was the first Panther contestant up and the price was right as he swooped in on Neuvirth and made a quick deke before he forced the puck over the goal line.
After Taraves and Brandon Pirri failed to convert in round two, Ellis out-waited Bailey to give the Cats the humongous big bonus point to keep his club within two of the Bruins. The win was the veteran netminder's first in the NHL since February 1, 2014 when he was still a member of the Dallas Stars.
Flotsam & Jetsam
- After going eighteen games without a goal, Jonathan Huberdeau has dented the twine in back-to-back tilts. Huberdeau has six points in the last four games.
- Like Burzmali on Gammu, Nick Bjugstad was a force to be reckoned with. In addition to his goal, which gave him forty points for the first time, Bjugsy recorded a team-high four shots and six hits. The sophomore pivot also went 8-of-15 in the circle.
- Willie Mitchell returned after a sixteen game absence and finished with one shot, three blocks and one hit in 19:56 TOI. Welcome back, captain!
- Michal Neuvirth surrendered three goals on eighteen shots in his first start since the Islanders acquired him from Buffalo on deadline day. Neuvirth's last action as a Sabre came against the Panthers a week ago.
- Rookie sensation Aaron Ekblad (flu) missed a game for the first time in his young career. Tomas Kopecky was also out of the lineup with the illness.
- John Tavares' three-point performance gave him an even seventy points on the season, tops in the league.
- The Panthers raised their record to 15-4-5 when scoring first. Fast starts are such a key for this team, makes you wonder why they come out flat so often...
- Trust the Gorton's Fisherman and sail over to Lighthouse Hockey for the other side of the Cats win over the Isles.