Avalanche end four-game slide with 7-3 win over Panthers

Cats muster just three points on three-game homie

The Florida Panthers ended a three-game homestand on a sour note, dropping a 7-3 decision to the Colordao Avalanche, who entered the BB&T Center on a four-game losing streak.

Mikko Rantanen opened the scoring 10:56 into the first period. Rantanen swept a loose puck in the slot by James Reimer after Mark Barberio’s shot didn’t get through a scrum in front of the net. Gabriel Landeskog drew the secondary assist on Rantanen’s ninth.

Jonathan Huberdeau took a long pass from Keith Yandle and found a streaking Aaron Ekblad, who hammered a shot by Semyon Varlamov to tie the score with three seconds left in the frame.

After taking a nifty little pass from Jamie McGinn, Denis Malgin broke in all alone Varlamov and beat him glove side to give the Cats the lead 4:51 into the second. Jared McCann started the play by bouncing the puck off the boards to McGinn.

As pretty as Malgin’s goal was Nathan McKinnon bettered it 9:35 later. MacKinnon took possession of J.T. Compher’s off the mark pass in the neutral zone and knifed his way through the Panthers defense before firing the puck upstairs on a stunned Reimer. Patrick Nemeth picked up the second assist on McKinnon’s eleventh of the campaign.

Tyson Barrie played catch with Rantanen before letting go of a wrister from the blue line that Alexander Kerfoot deflected in to give the Avalanche the lead 41 seconds after McKinnon’s spectacular goal.

Erik Johnson, playing in his 400th career NHL game, took a pass from Matt Nieto and pumped the puck through Reimer’s pads from just above the right circle to put Colorado up by two at the 11:59 mark of the third period.

Colin Wilson added on 1:43 later with the assists going to Compher and Sven Andrighetto. Compher swung wide to get around Michael Matheson before wiring a goalmouth pass to Wilson, who beat Malgin to the top of the crease to finish.

Down by three, the Panthers pulled Reimer with 6:07 remaining and the strategy paid off 22 seconds later when Huberdeau shot the puck off the skate of Nikita Zadorov and between the arm and body of Varlamov. Keith Yandle fed Huberdeau and Vincent Trocheck also drew an assist with the offensive zone faceoff win.

Florida would draw no closer, as Nieto and Carl Soderberg added empty-net goals to complete the scoring. Nieto’s tally came at 15:59 with the assists going to Blake Comeau and Soderberg, while Soderberg turned on the red light at 17:40 with Nieto and Comeau getting the helpers.

A disappointing result for the Panthers, who once again provided the cure for a struggling team on a losing streak. The game was closer than the final score indicates, with the difference being the Avalanche capitalized on its the scoring opportunities while the Cats couldn’t keep up offensively or get a key stop. A big moment in the tilt occurred shortly after Malgin’s impressive goal when Varlamov, who finished with 39 stops, denied Nick Bjugstad with a fine blocker save on breakaway attempt that could have put Florida up by two. The Panthers, losers of four of five, open a five-game road trip in Detroit on Monday.

Full Highlights (courtesy of NHL.com)

Peaks & Valleys

  • Aaron Ekblad became the third defenseman in Florida history to score goals in three consecutive games, joining Jay Bouwmeester and Jason Garrison.
  • After scoring just once in his first nine appearances of the season, Denis Malgin also has goals in three straight games.
  • As mentioned above, Erik Johnson, the first overall pick in 2006, played his 400th NHL tilt and also ended up with the eventual game-winner. Unfortunately, Johnson left with an injury with 5:53 remaining and did not return.
  • James Reimer made 23 saves and saw his record drop to 5-7-3 and his GAA raise to 3.81. Reimer needs to give the Panthers more with Roberto Luongo sidelined.
  • Jonathan Huberdeau and Vincent Trocheck each reached the 30-point plateau in this one. Huderdeau leads the team in scoring with 31 points on 9 goals and 22 assists.
  • Five Colorado skaters posted multi-point nights. Matt Nieto was the only one to hit three points, all coming in the third period to help the Avs clinch their first win in December.
  • Mile Hockey Hockey has the highs for the other side in their recap of the first of the season series between the 1996 Stanley Cup combatants./