The Florida Panthers have had to battle many things this season – the opposing team, injuries, awful luck, and sometimes even the officials.
Friday night, a new enemy was added to the Panthers list: lively end-boards.
The New Jersey Devils scored two goals off of weird bounces from the end-boards, but Florida battled through the adversity and won 4-3 in overtime.
Much-maligned forward Rostislav Olesz scored the winner on a snipe from the right wing. Olesz’s shot beat Devils goaltender Johan Hedberg over the right shoulder, which incited a celebratory mob from his teammates.
The goal followed Mike Santorelli’s shorthanded goal in the third period, which tied the game and forced overtime. Santorelli picked up a loose puck and skated in all alone, before faking out Hedberg and blasting a shot into the open net. Hedberg guessed on the play like a soccer goalie in a penalty kick, and paid a similar price for being wrong.
Chris Higgins opened the scoring for the Panthers, when he pounded home a rebound off of a Steve Bernier shot. Bernier chipped the puck around a defender, allowing him to streak in and take a hard shot that led to the rebound.
The Devils tied the game on their first lucky bounce of the night, when a Panthers clearing attempt bounced hard off the end boards, right in front of the net, where Travis Zajac tapped the puck passed a shocked Tomas Vokoun. New Jersey scored again a couple of minutes later, when a point shot caromed off the end boards and back out in front of the net. Jason Arnott, who found himself at the right place at the right time, potted the goal.
The Panthers wouldn’t go away though, and managed to tie the game a minute and a half later, on a Dennis Wideman power play goal. Wideman blasted a shot passed Hedberg, who was screened by Michael Frolik.
New Jersey took a 3-2 lead on another fluky goal, as Mark Fayne chipped a puck into the air from just inside the blue line. The puck started high and sailed over Vokoun, before nose diving into the open net.
The Panthers, who ended a six game road trip, will resume action next Tuesday when they return to the Bank Atlantic Center to host the St. Louis Blues.