Florida took the lead 3:28 into the opening period when Mike Hoffman whacked in a rebound after Marc-Andre Fleury stopped an open Mark Pysyk after the hybrid was set up in front by Vincent Trocheck.
Sam Montembeault surrendered a rather soft goal to Tomas Nosek that evened the score at 11:52. Keith Yandle made a nice defensive play and knocked the puck away from an onrushing Ryan Reaves, but it wound up on the stick of Nosek, who fired it through Montembeault. The hometown scorekeeper kindly rewarded Reaves and Nick Holden with undeserved (imo) assists.
That was Montembeault’s only negative moment in an opening period in which he had to come up with 15 saves to get his team to the locker room tied.
Evgenii Dadonov would notch his 25th goal, retaking sole possession of the club goal-scoring lead, 42 seconds into the middle frame with the Cats enjoying their first man-advantage of the night. After Yandle passed to Jonathan Huberdeau to gain the Vegas zone, he got the puck back and found Barkov down low. Barkov fed Dadonov with a pretty cross and the Russian converted to cap off the series of nice passes.
The Golden Knights would dominate the rest of the period and forge another tie at 12:59 when William Carrier took the puck down the wing after a faceoff win at the Vegas blue line and put it in off of Montembeault’s glove. Like Nosek’s goal, these are the kind of stoppable shots that have been killing the Cats for much of the season.
The Panthers almost made it through the period tied at two, but Aaron Ekblad got indecisive at center ice with the teams skating 4-on-4. He got hounded by Chandler Stephenson and then stripped of the puck by Shea Theodore, who passed off to Max Pacioretty, who beat Motembeault from the lower left circle to finish off the 2-on-0 break with 52 seconds left in the frame.
Florida followed up the last minute goal by allowing another just 19 ticks into third. After Paul Stastny got poke-checked by Anton Stralman in the Cats zone, Trocheck failed to claim the loose puck, allowing Jonathan Marchessault to collect it and set up another former Panther, Reilly Smith, who drove it by Montembeault from the right circle to give the Golden Knights a two-lead.
The Panthers absorbed the double gut punch and (finally) got to work, outplaying Vegas the rest of the way, and clawed back to within a goal at the 6:11 mark when Aleksi Saarela picked up his second goal since his latest recall. First Dadonov and then Hoffman tried to jam the puck by Fleury with Hoffman’s attempt catching the far post and coming to Saarela, who shot it above the fray into the open high part of the net. The goal survived video review to stand.
Florida would finish the third with 19 shots on goal, but Fleury would not yield another, and to throw a little extra salt in the wound, Smith would finish off the Cats with an empty-netter with 1:17 left in regulation, dropping the Panthers to 4-8-1 since they returned to action after the break.
Another forty minute slumber cost the Cats big time in this one. Yes, Montembeault gave up two bad goals, but he did stop 30 of 33 shots in the first two periods to keep his outplayed team ahead or tied for 39 minutes. Trocheck’s gaffe proved costly as the Panthers were not able to overcome the two-goal deficit, despite a big effort in the third.
The Cats left the game in the same situation in which they entered, two points behind Toronto with a game in hand. One wonders if the Panthers will ever be able to turn things around enough to take advantage of the (almost) equally bad Maple Leafs and earn a playoff berth. The Cats get a couple days off before they wrap the five-game roadie in Glendale. A win over the Coyotes would sure be nice before Thursday’s showdown at the BB&T Center versus the Leafs.
Video Recap (courtesy of NHL.com)
Swords & Shields
- Evgenii Dadonov’s second period goal was his 200th NHL point. The milestone came in his 273rd career game.
- After surviving Florida’s third period assault, Marc-Andre Fleury finished the game with 32 saves to backstop Vegas to its fifth straight win, keeping them atop the Pacific Division.
- Former Panther Reilly Smith’s two-goal effort got him to 25 goals, tying the career-high he set with Florida during the 2015-16 season.
- Dryden Hunt tagged in for the Cats, but left the game late in the first period. According to Coach Q, Hunt will be out “for a bit.”
- Aleksander Barkov has built a four-game point streak. The captain has three goals and two assists during that span.
- Golden Knights forward Gage Quinney, a Las Vegas native, became the first Nevada-born player to suit up in an NHL game. He had one shot on goal is his big-league debut.
- For more on Vegas’ season series sweep of Florida, visit Knights On Ice.