Another night, another third period lead, another loss. That’s been too a big part of the script to the frustrating 2018-19 season for the Florida Panthers, who dropped a wild 6-5 shootout decision to the Vegas Golden Knights in the final game of a difficult three-game road trip.
Former Panther Reilly Smith scored his second goal of the night to tie game at five with 4:18 left in regulation time on a delayed penalty. Smith got by a Aaron Ekblad in the neutral zone after taking a long outlet pass from Shea Theodore and his subsequent shot from the left circle was deflected by Mike Matheson ad flew past a helpless Roberto Luongo, who finished the night with 41 saves.
After barely surviving overtime, the Panthers were foiled by Malcolm Subban in the skills competiton. Jonathan Huberdeau just missed in round one and Subban, who has never surrendered a goal in an NHL shootout, made saves on Aleksander Barkov and Vincent Trocheck to deviler win.
Theodore’s dirty backhander that beat Luongo up high in the bottom of the second round proved to be the winner.
The back and forth tilt featured ten goals, 83 shots and a four lead changes.
Vegas got on the board first as the Panthers couldn’t lay claim to a loose puck after a defensive zone faceoff and let Paul Statsny collect the vulcanized rubber and fire it in between Luongo’s pads 3:09 into the first.
The Cats went crazy later in the frame, scoring three times in a 4:25 span to take a two-goal lead to the dressing room.
Mike Hoffman scored the first two goals of the binge to become the ninth Panther to post a 30-goal season. Both markers were set up Keith Yandle and Jonathan Huberdeau.
Hoffman scored a pair of power-play goals from the same spot high in the right circle. The first goal came after he played catch with Yandle and then slung a wrister by a screened Subban. The second was a one-timer off another pass from the defenseman after he took a neat little drop pass from Huberdeau.
Huberdeau set up Ekblad for another one-timer 28 seconds later to draw his third helper of the period. Barkov picked up the secondary helper on Ekblad’s 12th.
The Golden Knights went on a three-goal run of their own in the second period to take the lead back with Smith scoring at 7:40, and defensemen Jon Merrill at 14:22, and Colin Miller at 16:09. Ex-Panther Jonathan Marchessault assisted on two of tallies to regain the club scoring lead from Alex Tuch.
Smith, left wide open in front, scored a beautiful goal between his own legs to provide the spark. Merrill beat a screened Luongo stick-side with a well-placed wrister from the left circle, and Miller cranked a one-timer home after Statsny beat Vincent Trocheck on an offensive zone draw and Nate Schimdt fed the puck to his defense partner.
Barkov stopped the bleeding and evened the game with 54 seconds left in the frame when he stuffed in his own rebound after Jamie McGinn centered Trocheck’s missed deflection out to the captain from behind the net.
Huberdeau scored on a nice effort in traffic to put the Cats back on top temporarily 3:18 into the third. Dryden Hunt found Matheson in open space on the left side, but Subban made a fine skate save on the ginger’s drive, Huberdeau took possession of the rebound, spun to get a low shot off, which Subban denied again with his skate, and then managed put the rebound in while falling down for his fourth point of the night.
After winning the first game of the road trip in Denver, the Panthers let third period leads slip away in Glendale and Paradise. While last night’s Smith goal stings, it wasn’t as egregious as Derek Stepan’s final frame shorty in Arizona. This was a fun, 80s-style affair, featuring big performances from many of each teams top performers, to watch. It’s a shame the Panthers couldn’t have done better in either shootout (or better yet clamped down in either final period) to bring back an extra point (or possibly two, but let’s not get greedy). While this might piss some of you off a bit, I’m going to take the glass half full approach to this roadie. The Cats collected four points on a difficult three games in four days jaunt that saw them play two teams fighting for their respective playoff lives and another trying to solidify its spot, and that particular club isn’t easy to beat its own barn. I would wager that before the trip we’d all have been pretty satisfied for them to return home with four points, and they did. Sure, the optics of 1-0-2 aren’t as good as 2-1, but four points is four points in my book. In more positive spin, the Panthers are in fifth place in Atlantic Division for the first time in a long time and are now eight points out a playoff spot. Hey, it’s better than nine...
Video Recap (courtesy of NHL.com)