On Saturday night at the BB&T Center, the Florida Panthers played well enough to win until the literal last second.
The Chicago Blackhawks Alex DeBrincat beat backup netminder James Reimer five hole with under two seconds remaining to send a sure victory into overtime. Erik Gustafsson beat Reimer halfway through the extra session to send a partisan crowd home, half happy, half crestfallen.
At around the six minute mark of the first period, Mike Hoffman (11) drilled a one-timer past Cam Ward, low on the glove side. Jonathan Huberdeau skated into the left side of the zone and cut a pass across to Keith Yandle. In stride, Yandle put it on Hoffman’s tape for a 1-0 Panthers lead.
Not content with a one-goal lead, Colton Sceviour skated into Chicago’s zone with two Blackhawks draped all over him with 13 minutes gone in the period. Somehow, he got it to Jared McCann (3) who deked Ward out top-shelf glove-side to double the Panthers’ advantage. Bogdan Kiselevich got the secondary assist on the play with a nice defensive-zone play and outlet to Sceviour.
Less than a minute into the second frame, David Kampf (3) easily evaded Aaron Ekblad and held onto the puck long enough to get Reimer leaning the wrong way. He tucked the puck home past the extended right skate of the goaltender to get Chicago within one. Dominik Kahun and Gustav Forsling earned the helpers on the play.
Five minutes later, the Blackhawks tied it up on a Patrick Kane (13) redirection of a Brandon Saad pass, low on Reimer’s glove side. Forsling earned his second assist of the night on the goal.
At the eight minute mark, Ekblad (4) one-timed a cross-ice pass from Hoffman past Ward to give the Cats a 3-2 lead. Aleksander Barkov started the play by winning an offensive zone faceoff and getting the puck to Ekblad. Evgenii Dadonov was also credited with an assist on the play.
Frank Vatrano (7) reestablished the Panthers’ two-goal advantage at the 11:30 mark on a tip-in of a Jonathan Huberdeau shot. Vatrano beat Ward stick-side into a wide-open cage. Nick Bjugstad got his sixth assist of the season.
The Panthers power play suffered an embarrassing shorthanded goal halfway through the third period off a Bjugstad turnover in the defensive zone. Alexandre Fortin (3) stole the puck from the big forward and faked out Reimer to get the Hawks back within one. On the replay, it was clear that Fortin kicked the puck in, but not clear enough to the replay official making the call to call it back.
That set the stage for a disappointing end for the Panthers. With just under two seconds remaining, DeBrincat (10) slid the puck between Reimer’s pads to tie it up in heartbreaking fashion. Saad and Kane earned the assists on the play.
By the time the teams came out for five minutes of three-on-three, it seemed like a foregone conclusion that Chicago would escape with the two points. Gustafsson (3) made it a reality at the 2:32 mark, wristing one past Reimer from the top of the right faceoff circle.
A Few Things
Watching happy Blackhawks fans exit the BB&T Center is a special kind of hell I wouldn’t wish on anybody. The Panthers thoroughly outplayed Chicago through the first two periods, before getting out-shot 19-to-4 in the third and overtime.
The Panthers played a physical game, outhitting the Hawks 25-to-13. Michael Haley, Troy Brouwer, Vatrano and Bjugstad led the Cats with three hits each.
Florida also outblocked Chicago, 13-to-7, led by three from Mike Matheson.
Chicago defenseman Duncan Keith outshot everyone, getting eight shots on net but not finishing with a single point. That’s really saying something, as 19 players finished on the score sheet. 10 Panthers and nine Blackhawks.
Ekblad’s goal gives him 57 for his Panthers career, tying him for 19th all-time with Rostislav Olesz. Ekblad did it in 19 fewer games than the forward. It was also his 142nd point with the Cats, tying him with Gord Murphy for 20th.
Dadonov’s assist ties him with Paul Laus in 42nd all-time on the Panthers, with 58 each. It was also his 105th point, moving him into a tie for 38th with Mike van Ryn.
Yandle’s assist, his 100th as a Florida Panther, moves him past Pavel Bure and into a tie for 17th with Gord Murphy. It was also his 117th point, tying him in 33rd with Jesse Belanger and Michael Frolik.
Next up for the Cats, the visiting New Jersey Devils invade the BB&T Center on Monday night.