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Panthers stay in the chase with 3-1 win over Coyotes

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Cats gain two points on the Bruins in wild card race

NHL: Arizona Coyotes at Florida Panthers Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

The Florida Panthers snapped a two-game losing streak and kept their faint playoff hopes from flat-lining with a 3-1 win over the Arizona Coyotes at the BB&T Center.

Florida is now seven points behind the Boston Bruins (with a game in hand) for the Eastern Conference’s final playoff spot with nine games left in the season.

In order to pass the Bruins, the Cats would also need to climb over the Carolina Hurricanes, Tampa Bay Lightning and New York Islanders.

Visiting Arizona took the lead 3:20 into the first period when Tobias Rieder picked off Mark Pysyk’s crossing pass attempt and took it all the way down the ice before flipping the puck over James Reimer for his sixteenth of the season.

The Panthers tied the game 7:38 into the second period when Colton Sceviour stole the puck from Mike Smith behind the net and sent a pass in front to Shawn Thornton, who quickly chipped it home before Smith could get back. The veteran keeper, and his defenseman Jordan Martinook, tried to stop play by knocking the net off it’s moorings while scrambling to get back into his crease, but the play withstood review, giving Thornton his second goal of 2016-17.

Jonathan Marchessault gave the Cats the lead exactly ten minutes later when he buried Aleksander Barkov’s gorgeous saucer pass over a sprawling Alex Goligoski on a 2-on-1 break. Jonathan Huberdeau earned the secondary assist with some bullish work on the boards to spring Barkov and Marchessault.

Marchessault notched his second of the night twenty-six seconds later to put the Panthers up by two. After Nick Bjugstad hacked the puck free to keep it in the Coyotes zone, Thomas Vanek fed Marchessault with a crisp circle-to-circle pass and he ripped it over Smith’s shoulder for his 25th of the campaign.

Reimer made eight of his twenty-two stops in the third period, including this nice glove save on Josh Jooris, to pick up his fifteenth win of the season.

The Panthers will finish the three-game homestand on Saturday night, against the red-hot Chicago Blackhawks, before embarking on four-game road trip that features stops in Buffalo, Toronto, Montreal and what will hopefully be a very important head-to-head in Beantown versus the Bruins.

Kibbles & BIts

  • Aleksander Barkov’s pretty assist gave the pivot 21 points in 22 games since returning to the lineup after missing all of January with a back injury.
  • The Panthers held an opponent to less than two goals (in regulation) for the first time since March 2, a 2-1 shootout loss to Philadelphia.
  • No penalties were called during the tilt, leaving the special teams units out of the decision-making process.
  • Arizona defenseman Jakob Chychrun, a Boca Raton native, played his first game at the BB&T Center. The rookie dished out four hits and blocked a shot in 18:06 TOI.
  • The Cats scored all three of their goals in a second period that saw them out-shoot the Coyotes by a 19-4 margin.
  • Mike Smith finished the game with 36 saves, including 12 in the final frame, keeping his already-eliminated team in it until the end.
  • Shawn Thornton’s goal was his first since January 14, when he lit the lamp in a win over Columbus. The marker was the 42nd, and possibly the final one, of his long career.
  • Acme’s Five For Howling has the other side of the final Cats vs. Dogs match-up of the season.