The Florida Panthers roared back from a three-goal deficit before falling 5-4 in overtime to the Boston Bruins in a key Atlantic Division match-up at the BB&T Center. The Bettman point allowed the struggling Cats to maintain second place in the division, having played one fewer game than the Bruins. Both teams now have 81 points, one less than the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Things got ugly early as Patrice Bergeron pulled away from Dmitry Kulikov and knocked Brad Marchand's centering saucer pass by Roberto Luongo just 34 seconds into the tilt. Lee Stempniak picked up the secondary assist on the play with a nice cross-ice feed to Marchand.
The Bruins' sharp passing mystified the Cats' sleeping defense again at the seven-minute mark when Matt Beleskey and Dennis Seidenberg combined to send David Pastrnak in alone on Luongo. The slick sophomore easily converted, sending a backhand shot along the ice through the goalie's wickets.
Boston went up by three at 12:22 when Brett Connolly collected Noel Acciari's takeaway from Alex Petrovic at center (Petrovic then proceed to skate himself right out of the play) and made a beeline for the net, before easily firing the puck home for his ninth of the year. The assist was Acciari's first point in the NHL.
After being robbed earlier by Tuukka Rask, Aleksander Barkov stopped the bleeding with his 20th goal of the campaign. Barkov buried the rebound of a Jaromir Jagr's shot from in close to get the Cats on the board. The assist gave Jagr his 1,851st career point and sole possession of third place all-time in NHL scoring. Jonathan Huberdeau, back after a six-game absence, also drew a helper.
The celebration was short-lived with the speedy Bergeron converting a 2-on-1 pass from Stempniak 37 seconds later to restore Boston's three-goal advantage. Marchand collected another assist for his second point of the period.
A different Panthers team, with Al Montoya now between the pipes, emerged from the dressing room to start the second period.
The determined Cats struck back at 3:15 of the middle frame to pull within two. Huberdeau delivered a beautiful diagonal pass back to a waiting Jiri Hudler, who one-timed the puck into the beckoning net for his first in a Panther uniform. Erik Gudbranson was credited with the second assist on the play. Game on, Bears.
Florida made short work of a too many men penalty against Boston, scoring just nine seconds after the call. Reilly Smith fed Jussi Jokinen from behind the net and the Finnish veteran buried it to cut the B's lead to one. Vincent Trocheck picked up the second assist on the power-play marker.
After allowing 34 shots on Rask during the first forty minutes, the Bruins clamped down on the Panthers in the third, but the determined Cats finally broke through to the tie the game with 4:43 left in regulation.
Hudler bagged his second of the night, pouncing on a loose puck in front after a hard, rising drive from Petrovic. Nick Bjugstad was also credited with an assist on the game-tying goal.
An exciting, back-and-forth overtime ended at the four-minute mark when Ryan Spooner teed up Stempniak for the game-winner. Stempniak sent a rising shot over Montoya's glove for his first goal as Bruin, giving Boston the important bonus point.
Despite the loss, and absolutely ghastly first period, the Panthers pushed back hard, showing a lot of heart in erasing the Bruins' three-goal advantage and claiming a well-earned point. Hopefully, that kind of effort will be replicated on Thursday when the Ottawa Senators come to town. The Cats need to get back in the win column and shake this late season swoon.
Tea & Honey
- The Panthers fired a season-high 51 shots on Tuukka Rask, who finished with 47 saves. The Cats defense was awful in the first period, but Boston's defense had a hard time dealing with Florida offense all-night long.
- With Gordie Howe now in his rear view mirror, up next for Jaromir Jagr is Mark Messier, who stands second on the NHL's all-time scoring list with 1,887 points.
- In another milestone, Boston's Claude Julian moved past Art Ross to become the winningest coach in Bruins' history with 388 regular season victories.
- Roberto Luongo finished up his twenty-minute stint with 12 saves on 16 shots. Al Montoya stopped the first 15 shots he saw before yielding Lee Stempniak's overtime winner.
- Speaking of Stempniak, he now has a goal and five assists in four games since coming over from theNew Jersey Devils.
- In addition to scoring his first two Florida goals, Jiri Hudler lead the Cats with six shots on net. I think he's fitting in.
- Aaron Ekblad and Dmitry Kulikov each finished the game with a -3 rating.
- As per usual, war-on-ice has the fancy stats stuff for you right here.
- NHL.com has the highlight package for you to see with your own eyes.
- For all your Bear necessities, visit our friends over at Stanley Cup of Chowder.