SUNRISE, Fla. - The Florida Panthers have made a habit out of overtime and shootout losses at home. Coming into Thursday nights game, they were a league worst 2-2-3 at the BankAtlantic Center. They also found themselves in rut, losing five in a row against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Their resilience has paid off this season, and with their road success and a little bit of luck, the Cats have kept pace in the tough Southeast Division, and saw themselves facing one of the leagues best with first place on the line. Florida passed the test, earning the 3-2 victory over the Sidney Crosby-less Penguins, but it was not easy.
“Pittsburgh has an aura around them,” coach Kevin Dineen said, “Without [Crosby] in the lineup, they still try really hard. Fortunately for us, our goaltender and our players stood very tall for us. It was a really entertaining game.”
The early goings of the game went in the Penguins’ direction. Just 1:09 into opening frame, Chris Kunitz tipped a shot from Pascal Dupuis that goaltender Jose Theodore appeared to stop, but the puck somehow got passed him and gave Kunitz his seventh goal and the Penguins a 1-0 lead.
A little more than seven minutes into the game, Brian Campbell came into the slot from his defensive position, received the puck from Kris Versteeg, and came in on Brent Johnson. He made a move to his backhand and eased the puck around Johnson’s skate to tie the game up.
The even pace continued in the second period, with the two teams exchanging goals once again. 5:48 into the stanza and on the power-play, Tomas Fleischmann sniped a shot, after Stephen Weiss had initially lost the puck. The Panthers held a brief 2-1 lead until 12:38 into the period when Jordan Staal scored his 10th of the young season. After getting the rebound of Theodore, Stall ran along the crease and faked a shot, forcing the goalie down. After the hesitation he flipped the puck top shelf from the right side of the crease to tie the game at two goals apiece.
The rest of the period belonged to Pittsburgh, but Theodore stepped up to the challenge. After a 17 shot second period, the Penguins were out-shooting the Cats 24-21.
The flurry of shots continued, and the Panthers found themselves in panic mode during the third period. Pittsburgh once again accounted for 17 shots on goal, but the Cats countered with 11 shots, just one more than the previous period. As it turns out, that was the one that counted the most.
After the Penguins took a bench minor for too many men on the ice, which was served by the team’s top player in Evgeni Malkin, the Panthers were able to get traffic in front of the net. The hard work paid off as they kept poking the puck on Johnson, and finally Stephen Weiss was able to tip it home for his seventh goal of the season and the game winner at the 16:30 mark. The goal was initially reviewed to see if Weiss had kicked it in, but the play stood.
“I knew I didn’t kick it,” Weiss said. “We were asking why they were reviewing it and [the linesman] said something about a kick, so I told him that I didn’t kick it.”
Florida was able to withstand the final 3:30 of the game, even with the play in their zone and the Pittsburgh net empty for the final 1:06. Theodore stepped up and kept the puck out of the net, and the Panthers took home the hard-working victory, 3-2.
“Johnson made big saves when he had to,” Weiss said on the goaltending. “So did [Theodore]. They [The Penguins] were buzzing late in the third around the net. He’s been like that all year, giving us a chance. He was the difference late.”
“They didn’t quit,” Theodore said. “We didn’t panic and we were able to keep the puck out of the net. We were still able to get points at home, but you want to win games in front of your fans and you want to get two points. Tonight, against a really good Pittsburgh team, its good to get two points.”
With the win and Washington’s loss, the Panthers move to first place in the Southeast Division. Florida is back in action on Monday when they take on the New Jersey Devils in former head coach Pete DeBoer’s return to south Florida. The Penguins return home to take on the New York Islanders, also on Monday.
- Michal Repik made his first appearance of the 2011-12 season, registering 2 shots over 8:16.
- During morning skate, a mystery goalie, who is being referred to in the press box as “Goalie X” appeared between the pipes. Scott Clemmensen had some soreness, and Jacob Markstrom was called up, but could not make it for morning skate. Clemmensen is listed as day-to-day, and should be available Monday. However, Dineen hinted that Markstrom could get playing time this week. Dineen reiterated the soreness is not related to a knee surgery that kept Clemmensen out of the first month of the season.
- The announced crowd of 18,071 is just about 200 less than Opening Night. Still, parts of four sections were covered for tonight’s game.
- Stephen Weiss (FLA) GWG, 2 A
- Tomas Fleischmann (FLA) G, A
- Kris Versteeg (FLA) 2 A