Colorado had they better of the play in the first period and forged ahead at 10:40 when NHL scoring leader Mikko Rantanen tipped Patrick Nemeth’s shot by Roberto Luogno. The league’s second highest point man, Nathan MacKinnon drew the secondary assist by winning a battle in the corner and feeding Nemeth. The goal extended Rantanen’s point streak to a career-best ten games.
Luongo quickly denied the speedy MacKinnon on a breakaway and the Cats would eventually fight back to even the game with 2:07 left in the frame. Bogdan Kiselevich traded passes with MacKenzie Weegar at the blue line before sending a fluttering shot towards the goal that Colton Sceviour deflected off the stick of Philipp Grubauer and into the top of the net.
The Panthers got an early power play opportunity in the second, but gave up their sixth shorthanded goal of the season when Jonathan Huberdeau had his crossing pass intercepted in the offensive zone by Carl Soderberg. Soderberg carried into the other end, as Keith Yandle kindly accommodated the intrusion, and let go of a long wrister that struck Luongo in the mask and tumbled over the unlucky keeper and bounced past the goal line.
To their credit, the Cats quickly shook off the potentially devastating shorty, and tied the score 35 seconds later. After taking a pass from Mike Matheson, Jared McCann set up a cutting Aaron Ekblad for an easy put-away on the other side of the ice. Grubauer was screened and must of thought McCann was going to shoot as he made no attempt to move over to try to stop Ekblad. The goal gave Florida power-play markers in 17 of the last 18 games.
Unfortunately, an exciting, well-played game would come undone (yeah, I saw a Duran Duran billboard on my way to work) in a 44-span of third period.
With the Avalanche applying heavy pressure and forcing Luongo to come up with big saves, rookie Juho Lammikko finally established clear possession for his scrambling club. Instead of making the safe play and icing it to get a line change, Lammikko passed to Nick Bjugstad, who was bumped off the puck by Nemeth. Gabriel Landeskog collected the loose disk and flipped it down low where it was nicely redirected over Luongo’s shoulder by J.T. Compher at 6:21.
Soderberg notched his second of the night to pad Colorado’s lead when he took a drop pass from Colin Wilson and fired it home after Wilson pounced on rebound in the slot created by Kiselevich’s block of Samuel (Simon, if you are Denis Potvin) Girard’s attempt. Luongo got a piece of Soderberg’s shot with his glove, but not enough to keep it out. The play was reviewed for goaltender interference and ended up standing.
Landeskog sealed the deal with a long range empty-netter with 1:34 remaining on the clock to drop the Cats back to NHL .500 at 11-11-5, making Saturday’s homestand finale against the New York Rangers very important.
Tough to see another winnable game fall by the wayside as the Panthers once again had no answers, or goals, in the third period. All three of Florida’s top-liners finished the game with a -3 rating, in part due to yet another shorthanded goal surrendered. The Cats are tied for second in the NHL in that unseemly department. On a night when the Panthers needed offense, Jonathan Huberdeau’s torrid run of six straight multi-point games came crashing to halt, as did Aleksander Barkov’s five-game scoring streak and Evgenii Dadonov’s six-gamer. The Panthers had plenty of good looks at Grubauer, who finished with 33 stops, but could not finish, with the goalie’s big glove save on Dadonov’s late second period breakaway looming large in the outcome. Roberto Luongo was solid at the other end, done in by two deflections, a bounce off his mask, and perhaps getting clubbed with a stick while trying to snatch Soderberg’s clincher was a bit distracting. A win over the Rangers would end the homestand on a satisfying, if somewhat disappointing, 4-2-2 note. A loss to yet another club currently out of a playoff position would leave a rather sour taste in the mouth of the club (and fans) as it prepares to head out for a two-game roadie in St. Louis and St. Paul.
Video Recap (courtesy of NHL.com)