Panthers Earn Point, But Drop Fourth Straight

SUNRISE, Fla. - Call it Déjà vu. The Florida Panthers fell to the Minnesota Wild 3-2 in a shootout Thursday night at the BankAtlantic Center. The loss was the seventh in the shootout this season in nine attempts. It also gave the Panthers a grand total of one point over the four game homestand, putting them in second place in the Southeast Division.

It was the first time the Panthers had even seen overtime or a shootout since they lost by the same score to the Philadelphia Flyers on January 24.

Minnesota took care of business in a short and sweet shootout, scoring on their first two attempts, Erik Christensen and Matt Cullen. Kris Versteeg and Sean Bergenhiem missed for Florida.

The game, featuring two teams with a proven inability to score goals, went exactly as Wild coach Mike Yeo predicted.

“Both teams are going to compete hard tonight,” Yeo said after his team’s pregame skate. “Both teams are going to be responsible and hard defensively.-.-.every play could be the difference in the game.”

The Panthers, whose recent first period struggles have been their Achilles heel, managed to take two minor penalties in the opening frame tonight. Lucky for them, the Wild were equally as lackluster, failing to capitalize on the chances they were given in a scoreless first period that saw the two teams exchange 11 shot performances.

But the Panthers came out strong in the second, and took advantage of Minnesota’s penalty troubles. After Nick Schultz took a stick to Sean Bergenheim’s face, the Panthers found themselves on a powerplay and capitalized. Just 12 seconds into the man advantage, and 13:23 into the period, Stephen Weiss found a pass from Tomas Fleischmann at the goal line to the left of Niklas Backstrom. Weiss, who set the Panthers mark for most games played at 614 in the game, shot the puck from the right circle. It tipped off Tomas Kopecky’s sitick and the right post, to a wide open Mikael Samuelsson, who put it into the open net.

“I think I whacked at it first. I missed it,” Samuelsson said. “I stayed with it and luckily it went in.”

It was his eighth goal of the season, giving the Panthers a 1-0 lead that would hold until the final seconds of the period.

With just 19 seconds left in the second stanza, the Wild tied it up. Marek Zidlicky took a shot from the point, but broke his stick. Somehow, it trickled in front and took funny bounces before Kyle Brodziak finally put it home to tie the game at 1 with his 16th goal of the season.

The momentum continued to push the Wild’s way in the third, as an untimely tripping penalty to Weiss gave them a chance to get their first lead of the night. Dany Heatley took a one timer from the right circle that Jose Theodore was able to save. Cullen, a former Panther and the brother of Panthers prospect Mark Cullen, was on the doorstep and put the rebound home past the Panthers netminder to give Minnesota a 2-1 lead just 1:14 in.

Florida hadn’t scored multiple goals since February 15 when they scored two in a 6-2 blowout that came at the hands of the Ottawa Senators. They would need three to win this game, and hadn’t done that since February 12 at the New York Islanders.

With the odds against the Cats, Bergenheim did what he has all year, score clutch goals. 15:48 into the final frame, he got his 13th on a turnaround shot to the right of Backstrom. He got the pass off Brian Campbell’s stick, and turned around Greg Zanon, who put tight pressure on him.

“We’ve done a good job of [getting points] this season,” Bergenheim said. “Even though we were down, we came back and got that point. At the end of the year, it can be that point that puts us in the playoff spot. But we gotta play better, we know it. The race is on here for a playoff spot.”

Florida falls to eighth in the conference with the loss and the Winnipeg Jets’ 4-3 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning. Winnipeg leads Florida by a single point in the division, but the Panthers have four games in hand.

GOC OUT. REPIK, MATSUMOTO CALLED UP

  • Marcel Goc left practice Wednesday with a lower body injury. It is being called day-to-day.
  • with Matt Bradley also out, forwards Jon Matsumoto and Michal Repik were called up. Inside Hockey caught up with Matsumoto, who earned his second NHL callup and first with the Panthers. It will be featured in “Quotibles” tomorrow.
  • Ed Jovanovski returned to action after being out with a broken hand. He played over 18 minutes on the blue line.
  • with Jovanovski returning, defenseman Nolan Yonkman was sent down to San Antonio. Inside Hockey also caught up with him before he was sent to the AHL. That story will be featured on the site this weekend.

THREE STARS:

1. Erik Christensen (MIN) SO CLINCHING GOAL

2. Dany Heatley (MIN) 2 A

3. Sean Bergenheim (FLA) G

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