SUNRISE, Fla. – It may have been the closest to a playoff type atmosphere fans at the BankAtlantic Center have seen in almost 10 years, as the Boston Bruins took the Florida Panthers to a shootout, winning 3-2 in the bonus session.
“That was a good hockey game,” coach Kevin Dineen said. “I liked our response to a pretty average game in here against Pittsburgh [Friday night]. We knew both teams were sputtering along. It had some jump out there and unfortunately for us we weren’t able to score that final goal or get that final save and that’s what it came down to.”
“It was a fun game to be a part of. I would have liked to come out on the other end of it but if we play like that we’re going to have success,” forward Stephen Weiss said. “It was a good bounce back.”
The Panthers came inches away from ending the game twice. With about a minute left in the third period, Michal Repik ended up on a breakaway to the left of Bruins’ goaltender Tuukka Rask. Rask extended the left pad out to stop Repik’s backhand, keeping the game tied. In the overtime, Kris Versteeg had a breakaway of his own, forcing Rask out of his net. the puck slid across the ice to the inside of the left post, where it rested until a Boston defenseman could knock it away.
“We were right there,” Panthers goalie Scott Clemmensen said. “It’s always tough when you lose, any way you look at it. You can say you got a point from the defending champs and a much needed point, but at the same time we want to win.
“We were right there, we gave ourselves a chance to win tonight,” he added. “Tonight was a much better effort [than the previous two] and we did things the right way.”
The first two shooters for each side (Marcel Goc and Dmitry Kulikov for Florida and Beniot Puliot and Tyler Seguin for Boston) were each stopped in the shootout, and the Panthers’ Weiss and Bruins’ Patrice Bergeron each netted their team’s third shot. The resulting fourth round went Boston’s way as after Mikael Samuelsson mishandled the puck on his attempt,David Krejci was able to come right in on Panthers net-minder Clemmensen to give Boston the win.
The win wasn’t as innocent as it seemed for Boston. They were outplayed in the opening period, being out-shot 10-1 at one point. Their first shot counted a lot. Just 1:23 into the opening frame, Puliot brought the puck into the right faceoff circle, sending it behind to Bergeron, who netted a hard snap shot past Clemmensen for his 13th goal of the season, putting the Bruins up 1-0.
The score stood at 1-0 until 8:28 into the second as Jason Garrison let go his signature slap shot from the left point. The puck did a little ping pong, appearing to go off of Rask before hitting Sidenberg in the crease to go in. The equalizer was Garrison’s career-high 12th goal this season, and with the goal he continues to be the only defenseman in the NHL with 10 or more goals this season.
Bergeron got his goal back, after the Panthers had Shawn Matthias and Tomas Fleischmann in the box. Fleischmann had committed a hooking infraction, and just over a minute later, Matthias tried to clear the puck, but it went over the glass for an automatic delay-of-game penalty. Seguin took the initial shot from the slot, and it went towards the right side of Clemmensen where Bergeron tipped it into the empty net to give Boston a 2-1 lead.
“It was nice to get a second breakaway,” Matthias said. He had had a breakaway earlier and missed. “I kind of messed up on the first one. It was nice to get a second chance and nice to score.”
Boston still had over a minute of powerplay time to go, and after the Panthers killed it, they gained possession of the puck as Matthias came out of the box on a breakaway. Weiss fed the puck to him and he skated into the slot, sliding the puck through Rask’s five-hole to tie the game at 2 goals apiece. Weiss’s assist put him in the record books, as he nowas has 232 career assists, one more than Olli Jokinen, who had 231 with the Panthers.
From that point on, the tension could be cut with a butter knife. Both teams played clean hockey, sans Bergeron’s hooking penalty in overtime, and both goalies stepped up. The 19,018 fans, many of them wearing Bruins jerseys, became anxious. Both teams played their hearts out for the entire game, and treated the fans to an exceptional performance.
Both teams earned critical points in the game. Boston’s two points gives them a three point cushion over the red hot Ottawa Senators, while the Panthers single point puts them back ahead of Washington and in first place in the Southeast Division, for now. Washington plays the Islanders on Tuesday night, and depending on the outcome of that game and others, Florida could potentially slip out of the Playoff picture by their next game at the Colorado Avalanche on Wednesday.
“We’ll take the one point, build off this, and try to have a great road trip,” Matthias said.
INJURY BUG BITES AGAIN
The Panthers had the injury bug bite them again, as defenseman Ed Jovanovski injured his hand during a fight with Daniel Paille in the first period, according to the Miami Herald. Jovanovski was not available for comment after the game. The 35-year-old has been involved in many fights over the years, but this was his first of 2012.
Meanwhile, all of the injured Panthers skated this morning at the morning skate. Inside Hockey caught up with Scottie Upshall and Marco Sturm as they spoke about their upcoming returns:
“I feel great,” Upshall said. “I really pushed myself on the ice. Told the coach ‘when you need me I’m here.’ I’m excited to play. It’s been a while and I want to get back in the lineup.
“This team has played great with the injuries we’ve had. I think we’ve made it clear as a group that it’s going to take 30 or so players throughout the year. For us we’ve probably had 33 or 34guys who’ve played a game for us this year and done extremely well. This organization had depth and it’s proven. We’ve had a lot of man games missed due to injuries. To finally have some guys coming back healthy is a good thing.”
“It’s been good,” said Sturm, who skated with his teammates for the first time today. “I’ve had a really good three or four days. Hopefully it’s going to continue like this.
“You never want to get really hurt, especially in a trade. That’s just the way it goes. I’ve got to make sure I’m ready and when I get back, I want to be 100%.
“[The team's success] shows the character in our room. Guys are stepping up [since the injuries] an it’s fun to see. I think everyone is learning from that too, and hopefully that makes us stronger down the stretch. It’s going to get bigger and bigger. The guys are really excited. [The Panthers] didn’t have the opportunity to be in first place at that time of year for a long time, so we want to make sure we’re going to stay on top.
“When everyone is back it’s going to look really good and be really exciting.”
Jack Skille and Sean Bergenheim are also expected back soon, which could mean the end of the road for some of the Panthers “rental” players. Time will tell who goes where and when, depending on the injuries, but all of the injured forwards and goalie Jose Theodore will travel with the team, and may return on their three game road trip.
1. Patrice Bergeron (BOS) 2 G, SO G
2. Shawn Matthias (FLA) G
3. Tuukka Rask (BOS) W 38 SV
NOTE: The Panthers will return to the ice for practice at 11:00am at the Saveology.com Iceplex before heading to Denver tomorrow afternoon. It is free and open to the public.