The Florida Panthers started strong, but could not solve Kaapo Kahkonen after the first period as the Minnesota Wild ran its winning streak to four and its point streak to ten games with a 4-2 road victory.
Kahkonen, who like Cats’ keeper Chris Driedger was making his second NHL start, finished the tilt with 44 saves and blanked the Panthers over the final 45:34, allowing his team to fight back from a two-goal deficit after twenty.
Florida’s big guns struck in the opening period, with Aleksander Barkov notching a power-play goal from the top of the left circle at the 9:54 mark from Keith Yandle and Jonathan Huberdeau. Huberdeau would bag a goal of his own from the high slot 4:32 later with the lone assist going to Frank Vatrano.
Driedger held the Wild down until Jason Zucker scored unassisted midway through the middle frame, breaking the 25-year-old’s 89:26 shutout streak. Zucker stole the puck from Mike Hoffman, who was trying to the settle the puck down to get a shot off, and raced the other way to get his club on the board.
Mats Zuccarello tied things up 3:30 later with a quick shot from the right circle and Carson Soucy scored the eventual game-winner early in the third, when he took a sweet cross-ice pass from Zach Parise and shoveled a backhander through Driedger’s pads.
After peppering Kahkonen with 19 shots in the second, the Panthers put 14 more on the rookie in the third, but could not come up with the equalizer. Minnesota’s fourth round pick in 2016 made a big save with just under five minutes to go when he denied Dominic Toninato’s rebound chance from in close.
Luke Kunin ended it with a long-range empty-netter that just made it over the goal line before Yandle could chase it down.
This game was reminiscent of last week’s loss to the Washington Capitals. The Panthers were the better team for most of the game, but couldn’t come up with another to goal to fully take control and the other team’s keeper outplayed Florida’s. If Hoffman’s makes a smarter play and Zucker doesn’t go the other way and score, maybe the Cats win this one. It’s little things like that that are killing the Cats, who have now lost four of five, right now.
Sergei Bobrovsky will reclaim his net when his former club, the Columbus Blue Jackets come to town on Saturday. With the way the schedule breaks down, the Panthers will could be out of a playoff spot by then, so a big effort and win will be needed.
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Spiders & Snakes
- Chris Driedger’s shutout streak was the 8th-longest from the first start of a goalie’s NHL career, and the longest since early 2003, when Chicago’s Michael Leighton went 91:42 without allowing a goal. Driedger finished the contest with 22 saves.
- Minnesota’s 10-game point streak (7-0-3) is tied for second-longest in Wild history. The franchise record is a 13-game (12-0-1) run achieved in December, 2016.
- One wonders how long Joel Quenneville will continue to leave Denis Malgin in the lineup. Malgin failed to pick up a point for the the thirteenth straight game. Lack of offensive production got Dryden Hunt sent down...
- Kaapo Kahkonen’s 44 saves were a rookie record for a Minnesota goaltender, Matt Hackett made 42 stops in a 4-2 win over the Los Angeles Kings on December 8, 2011.
- Colton Sceviour, who has just two goals this season, led all skaters with six shots on goal. Keith Yandle and Mathew Dumba each had five.
- Other Wild players collecting assists were Victor Rask, Jonas Brodin, Brad Hunt and Zucker.
- For more on this latest loss they allow Minnesota to keep rising in the standings, visit Hockey Wilderness.