The Florida Panthers won the special teams war and won just its second game of the season, 3-2 over the New York Islanders, thanks to Mike Hoffman’s power-play blast 33 seconds into overtime.
After an embarrassing loss to the New York Rangers on Tuesday, the Panthers looked a little punch drunk to start. A misplay behind the net between Keith Yandle and James Reimer led to great chance for Cal Clutterbuck ten seconds into the game, but the Cats goaltender came up with a huge save and then denied Scott Mayfield’s bid on the long rebound. Florida failed to take advantage of slashing minor on Josh Bailey eight minutes in and the game remained scoreless until the Islanders cashed in late in the frame. Brock Nelson got the goal at 18:36 after a terrible turnover in front of the net by Vincent Trocheck. Bailey was the recipient of the gift, and he made a quick little pass to Nelson, whose shot was blocked by Trocheck and then Mike Matheson inadvertently swept the loose puck off Trocheck’s skate and over the goal line. Oops... These are the kind of plays that have been killing the Cats all season. Thankfully, it happened late in the period and the Islanders weren’t able to inflict any further damage. Robin Lehner was solid in net for New York, stopping all 13 shots he faced.
Florida would fire 13 shots at Lehner again in the second, but to no avail. Lehner got down to make a solid save on Aaron Ekblad’s low drive from the right circle, and later he fell backwards to smother a puck that Colton Sceviour craftily tried to bank off his back from below the goal line. Trocheck’s tough night continued when he got called for hooking Mathew Barzal at 11:20. The Islanders quickly took advantage when Barzal sped into the offensive zone to take a drop pass from Anders Lee. Barzal then found Jordan Eberle open for a one-timer and he finished just inside the post, giving New York a two-goal lead just 22 seconds after the infraction. This was a well-executed bit of work by the Isles, sometimes you’ve just got to give credit to the other team. The speed of Barzal left Ekblad in no-man’s land and the talented sophomore, who won the Calder Trophy last year made a nice pass and Eberle didn’t miss on the high-quality scoring chance.
The Panthers finally broke through and ended Lehner’s shutout bid with a power-play goal 2:46 into the final stanza. After the big Swede steered aside a long Hoffman shot, Nick Bjugstad swept the rebound back to Hoffman, who went to Matheson, who teed up Ekblad for a one-timer. Bjugstad was struck and stung by Ekblad’s shot, but had the presence of mind to poke the puck over to Frank Vatrano, who beat Lehner glove side. Florida did a good job of moving the puck around, and hats off by Bjugstad for heading back to front of the net to screen after making the play on the rebound in the corner. An Aleksander Barkov rush led to the tying goal at the 10:35 mark. Barkov motored into the Islanders zone after taking a pass from MacKenzie Weegar, and his backhand bid was blunted by Lehner’s skate save. Florida’s captain rounded the net to corral the rebound and spotted Evgenii Dadonov open in the high slot. Dadonov’s subsequent wrist shot bounced off Lehner and into the net, the fourth goal of the Russian. Again, the Panthers finished the frame with 13 shots, while holding New York to just 6, but for the fifth time in eight games, the Cats would have to head to overtime, this time with a man-advantage.
A late interference penalty on Barzal not only let Bjugstad off the hook for delay of the game, it gave the Panthers a 35-second 4-on-3 power play to start the extra session. With 9 seconds to go on the penalty, Barkov won a big offensive zone draw to Hoffman, who dropped it back to Yandle at point. Hoffman moved from the left to the right circle and Yandle slid a pass over that the former Senator hammered past Lehner’s wanting glove to complete comeback. This is why the Panthers acquired Hoffman, who now has goals in three straight games and points in each of last six. His goal late in the game on Saturday salvaged a point against Detroit.
After dropping back-to-back games to the lowly Red Wings and rebuilding Rangers, the Panthers came up with a huge win to stop the bleeding. Florida limited the Islanders to just 22 shots and did well to not let New York pile on, a season-long problem, after they did score. A nice bounce back game from Barkov and Dadonov, the former in particular, who didn’t do much in the loss 24 hours earlier in Madison Square Garden. Reimer wasn’t spectacular, but he didn’t have to be. He made the routine saves and kept his team in game until Vatrano finally solved Lehner to spark the rally. A victory Saturday in New Jersey will pull the Cats back to 3-3-3 and give them their first winning streak of the season. A worthy goal before the trip to Finland where they will face the powerful Winnipeg Jets twice.
Video Recap (courtesy of NHL.com)