The Florida Panthers scored on three straight shots during a torrid 4:15 span of the second period, but couldn’t stay out of the penalty box, allowing the Carolina Hurricanes to score a pair of power-play goals 1:56 apart early in the third period to pull ahead en route to a devastating 4-3 win over the Cats.
With the victory, the Hurricanes jumped the Columbus Blue Jackets for the second wild card spot, leaving the Panthers ten points out of the playoffs.
Justin Williams opened the scoring in unorthodox fashion during a rather evenly played and low crowd energy first period. No one picked up defenseman Brett Pesce in the high slot and he had plenty of time to uncork a rising wrist shot that Williams redirected into his own face, After striking Williams in the kisser, the puck found its way by James Reimer at the 5:12 mark. Williams tracked down his own rebound after a Reimer pad stop and made the pass to Pesce before heading to the front of the net. Pun intended.
Florida did have it’s chances with Vincent Trocheck getting some quality looks and Troy Brouwer had a late breakaway that was rather easily turned away be Petr Mrazek.
The Hurricanes went up by two when Williams deflected an incoming Jaccob Slavin shot on goal. Reimer adjusted to make a kick save, but the rebound came right to recently acquired Nino Niederreiter and he easily pushed it into the beckoning goal 4:35 into the second period.
Starting 1:18 later, Florida would explode for three goals to turn the game around.
The first came when Trocheck, forechecking hard, separated Dougie Hamilton from the puck behind the Carolina net. Jayce Hawryluk beat Slavin to the loose disk and quickly sent a sweet backhand feed out in front to Evgenii Dadonov for the put-away.
Riley Sheahan drew a holding call on Lucas Wallmark and the Cats converted at 9:49. After the Canes failed to clear, Jonathan Huberdeau dished to Mike Hoffman, who handed it back to the winger, who quickly went cross ice to Dadonov, who shanked it to Aleksander Barkov, who deflected it out of the air and past a befuddled Mrazek in a dazzling display of passing and hand-eye prowess to the tie things up.
Florida would take the lead 1:19 later with a second power-play strike. After taking an entry pass from Barkov, Hoffman pulled up in the outer right circle and found Huberdeau open in the slot and the crafty winger slung a well-placed wrister inside the far post for his 16th goal of the season.
A key moment came soon after when Dadonov hit Trocheck with a pretty saucer pass, but the center didn’t one-time the puck, instead he chose to cradle it (not a bad decision per se) and failed to lift his shot over a sprawling Mrazek. A fourth consecutive goal probably would resulted in a different outcome, instead Carolina got to the dressing room only down by one.
The Hurricanes opened the third with Aaron Ekblad already in the sin bin and knotted the score 19 seconds later. Justin Faulk took a pass from Teuvo Teravainen and moved into the right circle before snapping a shot over Reimer’s left arm.
Carolina took the lead for good at 2:15 after Ian McCoshen was sent off for slashing Williams and the 37-year-old bagged his second goal, and third point of the night, when he got completely behind the Panthers defense to finish off another Teravainen primary with a high shot from in tight.
The Panthers had plenty of chances to tie, but were foiled by both Mrazek when he made bang-bang saves on the snake-bitten Trocheck and Dadonov, and themselves as they just couldn’t stick one of many loose rebound into the net. Barkov caught a late post and Mrazek came up with another big stop on Keith Yandle right before the buzzer. Ugh!!!
Add another one to the list of games that got away as grizzled vet Justin Williams. the referees, missed opportunities, lack of puck luck and Petr Mrazek, who outplayed James Reimer, conspired to cost the Panthers a potential huge win. Two strong periods were enough to beat Buffalo on Tuesday, but one and half wasn’t enough to beat a better Carolina team. Yes, the officials were calling things tight, especially on the home team, but the Cats weren’t disciplined enough with their sticks and spent way too much killing penalties. Before you get too pissed off about the officiating, the Hurricanes were called for five infractions and Florida did have the last two power plays. I hate to use the term “must win” with over 20 games left in the season, but this game was essentially one of those and now the Panthers are back to double digits down in the playoff chase. The margin of error is getting razor thin.
Video Recap (courtesy of NHL)