Panthers Fall to Coyotes by Inches

SUNRISE, Fla. – Hockey is a game of inches, and Stephen Weiss proved it with just :25 remaining in Tuesday’s 2-1 Florida Panthers loss to the Phoenix Coyotes at the BankAtlantic Center.

After two Coyotes’ players intentionally knocked their own net off, Florida was awarded a penalty shot. He faked left, slipping a backhand between the legs of backup goaltender Jason LaBabarera, who came in to replace the injured Mike Smith. The puck ended up right on the goal line, leaving the Panthers inches away from a tie, and most likely, overtime.

“It wasn’t to be this time. I’d like to have it back, for sure,” Weiss said.

It was the first time Florida couldn’t salvage even a single point at home since November 13, against the Philadelphia Flyers, or a span of 10 games. It’s the 13th consecutive one-goal decision on the ice in Sunrise.

Both teams came out sloppy in the opening frame, with each side ending up with 7 shots on net. The teams exchanged penalties early, with a total of eight penalty minutes being handed out between them in the first 10 minutes.

Finally, after Shawn Matthias took a phantom interference call in front of the Coyotes net, and Kris Versteeg took an undisciplined slashing penalty, the Coyotes found themselves up two men with a minute left in the opening frame.

With just seven seconds left, former Panther Ray Whitney received the puck at the front of the left wing faceoff circle from defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson, who had faked a shot from the right point. Whitney shot the easy goal, his 11th of the season and 352nd of his his 19 year NHL career. Radim Verbata was credited with the secondary assist.

“I was really unhappy with the Matthias penalty,” Coach Kevin Dineen said. “That’s a hockey play. You watch a guy battling in front. For something like that to be called and not the high hits [to the head] is something to look at.

“the game obviously became lopsided. Very upset with the officiating tonight,” he continued.

The Coyotes skated into intermission with a 1-0 lead.

Phoenix took advantage of another Panthers penalty in the second period. After Erik Gudbranson took a delay of game call for shooting the puck over the glass, Verbata shot the puck from the left side circle. José Théodore made the initial save, but the puck’s momentum carried it through the five hole, and into the goal. It was his 16th goal of the year, keeping him at the top of his team’s scoring list, five ahead of Whitney. The goal came at 9:02, with Keith Yandle and Whitney assisting on the play. It was all the Coyotes needed, as they led 2-0.

The Panthers clawed back in the third. Smith left the game after attempting a routine save in the third, falling to the ground in pain. He appeared to favor left wrist, but the Coyotes are calling it a “lower body injury.” With the cold LaBarbera in net, Brian Campbell took the drop pass from Versteeg, and slapped it from just outside the right circle. The initial shot beat LaBarbera, but it went off his back side and into the net, making the score 2-1. It was Campbell’s third goal of the year and Jason Garrison had the secondary helper.

The Panthers will travel to Ottawa tomorrow before playing two games in two days to end the pre-Christmas schedule.

CAT BYTES:

  • The Coyotes’ Smith and David Schlemko, along with Panthers’ Mikael Samuelsson all had premature exits in the game. As noted above, Smith is said to have a “lower body injury”, while Samuelsson will be evaluated tomorrow. There is no word on Schlemko, who was hit in the nose by a deflected shot. Ed Jovanovski was slow getting up after being hit into the boards, but had his left cheek stitched up and returned to the game.
  • Forward Bill Thomas signed a two-way contract today, and played 8:18. Tim Kennedy returned from San Antonio and played 11:28.

THREE STARS:

1) Ray Whitney (PHX) G, A

2) Brian Campbell (FLA) G

3) Shawn Matthias (FLA) 3 SOG +1

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