In perhaps his most important start as a member of the Florida Panthers, backup goaltender Al Montoya stole the show, stopping 31 shots, including a few dandies in overtime, to lead his club to a much-needed 2-1 shootout win over the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The depleted Panthers, riding a two-game losing streak, opened the scoring at the 7:30 mark of the first period. Jussi Jokinen made a nice hustle play to keep the Pens from gaining possession in their zone, getting the puck back to Brian Campbell at the blue line. Campbell sent the puck over to partner Alex Petrovic, who whipped it cross-ice to a waiting Nick Bjugstad. Big Nick made no mistake, firing the vulcanized rubber home past Marc-Andre Fleury for his tenth goal of the season.
Pittsburgh came close to tying the game later in the frame, but Sidney Crosby, jamming away in front, pushed the puck over the goal line after the whistle blew.
The clubs traded chances in the second period, with the best opportunity going to Vincent Trocheck, whose shot from the edge of the right circle caught the post.
Montoya came up huge early in the third to deny speedster Carl Hagelin on a shorthanded breakaway chance that came courtesy of a Bjugstad giveaway. The Cats failed to convert on that and a subsequent power play opportunity, which came back to bite them in the hindquarters.
With The Big Cubano 3:24 away from a shutout, Chris Kunitz collected a loose puck after Trocheck pulled the puck back from Crosby on a defensive zone draw and curled his way into the right circle before ripping one off the cross bar and into the net to tie the game.
A frantically played overtime saw Montoya rob Phil Kessel and make a couple of nice stops on Bryan Rust.
After Jonathan Huberdeau hit the post to open the shootout, Crosby easily beat Montoya to give the Penguins the advantage. Bjugstad's third round, do or die backhander evened the skills competition, setting the stage for Jokinen's decisive strike to begin round five. Jokinen used the same move Huberdeau did, but was able to dent the twine after going wide to pull Fleury to the ice. Montoya made a rather routine stop on Matt Cullen to seal the deal.
The win put the Atlantic Division-leading Panthers five points up on the Detroit Red Wings and stopped the bleeding on this six-game homestand that opened with a tough loss to St. Louis and a 5-0 rout at the hands of the Nashville Predators. The San Jose Sharks will pay the Cats a visit on Thursday night.
Snares & Chinstraps
- All three meetings between the two teams this season went past regulation time. The Penguins took the first two tilts by identical 3-2 scores in overtime.
- The Cats are now 6-1 in shootouts in 2015-16, running off six straight wins after dropping the first one to Anaheim back in early November.
- Greg McKegg was the latest Portland Pirates crew member to take a spot on the Panthers' roster. McKegg logged 7:08 TOI, dished out three hits and went 0 for 2 in the face-off dot.
- The win made Jaromir Jagr's 44th birthday a happy one. Jagr did not record a point, Marc-Andre Fleury made a nice stop on his one-timer chance in the first period, but beating his old team had to feel pretty good.
- Speaking of Fleury, he finished the game with 27 saves including a nice third period denial on Jussi Jokinen to keep the Pens within a goal.
- After having a hand in all six Pittsburgh goals in the first two meetings between the clubs, Sidney Crosby did not pick up a point on the Chris Kunitz goal, which was the winger's eleventh of the campaign.
- Vincent Trocheck, Jonathan Huberdeau and scorer Nick Bjugstad each fired four shots on goal to lead the Cats. Trocheck delivered a strong performance going head-to-head with Crosby for most of the night.
- Bjugstad became the ninth Panther to hit the ten-goal mark this season. That number leads the league.
- war-on-ice has the fancy stuff for you right here. Shane would approve.
- The folks at NHL.com have a nice highlight package for you to see with your own eyes.
- Waddle on over to Pensburgh for their take on the season-series concluding game between the Cats and Penguins.