The Florida Panthers fell behind, 3-0 by the middle of the second period, then made it interesting by scoring twice early in the third before ultimately dropping a 4-2 decision to the Edmonton Oilers in Sunrise on Monday night.
Jonathan Huberdeau almost surprised Edmonton goaltender Cam Talbot early, when he stole a pass and skated in alone with the puck, but he just couldn't stuff it home.
At 4:16, Erik Gudbranson threw down with Matt Hendricks, in probable retaliation for Hendricks dirty hit on Aaron Ekblad last week. Gudbranson just destroyed Hendricks in the fight, which lasted less than a minute and costed the Panthers nothing but an offsetting five-minute major.
At the 5:50 mark, the Oilers took a 1-0 lead when Taylor Hall split the defense to beat Al Montoya, top shelf on the stick side. It was Hall's 17th goal of the season and Edmonton's first shot on goal of the night. Teddy Purcell earned the only assist on the play.
Benoit Pouillot held Jussi Jokinen at 11:15 for Florida's first power play of the night, but the Panthers failed to get a single shot on Talbot, as the Oilers cleared the puck out of the zone five times through the two minutes.
With two minutes left in the period, Pouillot stole the puck and dished it to Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who hit Jordan Eberle in stride to beat Montoya for a 2-0 lead. It was Eberle's 11th marker of the season.
With 50 seconds left in the first, Darnell Nurse held Brandon Pirri to give the Panthers another two-minute chance to get on the board. Unfortunately, the two minutes split over two periods would see the Panthers get cleared out of the zone another five times without generating a serious threat to Talbot.
The teams hit the locker room with Edmonton holding a 12-to-11 edge on hits and Florida having won 11-of-20 faceoffs. Florida also had 14 Corsi chances to 13 for the Oilers, but Florida blocked six of them to claim a nine-to-six edge in shots on goal. Iiro Pakarinen and Huberdeau each had three hits for their respective teams, and Nick Bjugstad won all four of his showdowns in the dot. Derek MacKenzie won three-of-four.
Just after Florida's second power play expired, Andrej Sekera interfered with Aleksander Barkov. In theory, this would represent a significant threat to Edmonton's two goal lead, but four clears and two shots later, the score remained the same.
Florida's third power play ended, then Montoya almost immediately gave up a goal for the third time, at the 4:19 mark. Hall lit the lamp for the second time of the night with his 18th of the season, with assists awarded to Purcell and Leon Draisaitl.
At the 12:21 mark, Jaromir Jagr was called for a tripping penalty against Eberle. The Oilers negated the man advantage a minute later when they had six or seven skaters on the ice for a too-many-men penalty. Florida's four-on-four unit, starring Jokinen, Barkov, Steven Kampfer and Dmitry Kulikov looked a lot better than Florida's five-on-four team, keeping the puck in Edmonton's goal and harrying Talbot throughout. Vincent Trocheck had a golden opportunity to get Florida on the board, all alone in front of the Oiler's crease with the puck for a full two seconds before taking his shot, but Talbot turned it aside.
Florida made 21 shot attempts through the frame to only 11 for the Oilers, but none of them counted, unfortunately. Edmonton had 16 hits to 12 for the Panthers, and won 15-of-28 faceoffs. Zack Kassian had four hits by himself for the bad guys, while Barkov won five-of-eight faceoffs.
2:45 into the third period, Reilly Smith broke into the Oilers zone, stole the puck, and went high over Talbot's glove side to cut into Edmonton's lead with an unassisted marker. It was Smith's 13th goal of the year.
Just under three minutes later, Quinton Howden ended an prolonged assault on Talbot by slapping a Shawn Thornton pass into the cage. It was Howden's fourth goal of the season and Thornton's first helper. Brian Campbell earned his 13th assist of the season on the play.
Campbell was a hero again a little later yet at the 8:20 mark, when he broke up a two-on-one breakout by laying down between two charging Oilers. His timing was perfect, and he smothered the puck to foil the excellent Edmonton chance.
Florida brought sustained pressure late in the period, but Purcell added an empty-netter with 1:28 remaining, just as Montoya was skating to the bench for the extra skater.
The teams were mostly even through the third, although Florida won the eye-test pretty much through the whole game. Hits were plenty throughout, with a combined 70 from both teams. Edmonton had 37 of them, led by Pakarinen's nine, Kassian's eight, and Eric Gryba's six. Trocheck had four to lead Florida, while eight different Panthers had three hits each.
MacKenzie won six-of-nine faceoffs, Barkov took 11-of-20 altogether, and Trocheck was less than efficient, winning just five-of-17 times. Hendricks was the big winner, winning 13-of-19.
Gudbranson really took it out on Hendricks there in the first, winning the fight by every measure possible. On the down side, Guds didn't skate past the midpoint of the second, with an apparent hand injury.
To nobody's surprise, Barkov led everyone with a plus-13 Corsi mark on the night, but sometimes advanced stats don't tell the whole story. Kulikov and Jagr each had a plus-9 mark. Only two Oilers ended the night with a positive Fenwick mark on the night, Yakupov with a plus-4 and Eberle with a plus-3.
The Copper & Blue has the other side of the ice. War-on-ice has the advanced statistical story, and nhl.com has the conventional recap.
Florida has the next three nights off before welcoming the Chicago Blackhawks and their legion of fans to the BB&T Center at 7:30 on Friday night. Second City Hockey tracks the Blackhawks if you're interested.
Highlights (courtesy of NHL.com)