SUNRISE, Fla. – To put it lightly, Stephen Weiss has been in a slump. In the past 11 games, he was held scoreless, and he had just two goals in the past 31. But Sunday night was different. Prior to the game, Weiss was honored for playing his 614th game with the Panthers on Thursday, breaking the all time record of 613 set by Radek Dvorak. The 28 year old, who has played his entire career with the Panthers, did not disappoint. He scored two goals and added an assist in the Panthers’ 4-2 victory over their rival Montreal Canadiens.
Not to be upstaged, but his new front line counterpart Sean Bergenheim also had three points, with a goal and two assists.
The game started out like many Panthers games have. They were flat for the first 10 minutes, mustering just a couple of shots over that time, and going just about the entire 10 minutes before their first puck hit net.
The Canadiens took full advantage and jumped out to an early 2-0 lead. With Sean Bergenheim and Max Pacioretty in the box for separate offenses, and the teams skating four aside, Erik Cole dumped the puck from the right face off circle down low to David Deshamais. At 4:27, he came around to Scott Clemmensen, who made the initial save. The rebound went righr back to Deshamais, who scored on the left side of the open net to give Montreal an early 1-0 lead, on his 12th of the season.
Just over two minutes later, the Panthers took two costly penalties. While Tomas Kopecky was going off for hooking, Kris Versteeg was called for a tripping penalty. Down two men for the full two minutes proved to be a daunting task, as 32 seconds into the 5-on-3 advantage, P.K. Subban wound up a snap shot from the slot that Clemmensen had no shot at stopping. Subban’s fourth goal of the season doubled the lead to 2-0.
“They came at us in waves early,” Panthers head coach Kevin Dineen said, “Give Montreal credit, they played an extremely hard game and we had an answer for it tonight.”
That answer came in the form of a huge momentum shift, and leading the charge was Weiss.
11:36 into the period, Keaton Ellerby ripped a shot from the right-center point. Peter Budaj made the initial save, but Weiss was crashing and battling three defenders. He found the rebound and an open net to his right. He was able to score the easy goal and cut the lead in half to 2-1 with his 14th goal of the year.
The period wrapped up with one more bit of momentum going the Panthers way, as Erik Gudbranson dominated a fight with Ryan White after the buzzer. At the same time, Subban took a slashing penalty.
Just 1:09 into the second stanza, Bergenheim took advantage of the man advantage. He came in down the left side and shot a snap shot past Budaj. Bergenheim’s 14th goal tied the game at 2. He had 14 regular season goals with the Tampa Bay Lightning last year, over 80 games. It took him just 41 to get to the 14 goal mark this season, and he sits one shy of his career high of 15, with the New York Islanders in 2008-09. Clemmensen earned an assist on the play, his first of the season.
If there were any questions about the Panthers’ momentum shift, they were answered just three minutes later, at the 4:01 mark. Weiss scored his second goal of the game and 16th of the year. He was sitting in front of Budaj, as Bergenheim sent the puck to Mikael Samuelsson on the low right side. Samuelsson sent it into the traffic, and Weiss poked it home to give Florida it’s first lead of the night at 3-2.
The Panthers were not done. They continued to dominate play against a tired and struggling Habs team. Brian Campbell solidified the win 9:52 into the final frame with a hard slapshot from the center point that beat Budaj. It was Campbell’s fourth goal of the year and doubled up the Panthers lead to the final score of 4-2.
Florida now takes a two point lead on the Winnipeg Jets, with still four games in hand.
The last place Canadiens travel to Tampa on Tuesday to take on the Lightning, while Florida will make a trip to Canada Tuesday, as they battle a Maple Leafs team that is three points out of a playoff spot and desperate for a win.
- All but one of the Panthers points came from starters, with the new top line of Bergenhiem-Weiss-Samuelsson combining for a +8 rating on three goals and five assists.
- The top line swept the three stars selection, and Stephen Weiss was listed as the NHL’s number one star of the night.
- The lone point from the rest of the team came from defenseman Keaton Ellerby.
- Kris Versteeg left the game with an undisclosed injury. He is questionable for Tuesday’s game.
- Follow Inside Hockey for the latest on the NHL trade deadline, which is at 3pm ET Monday.
1. STEPHEN WEISS (FLA) GWG, 2 G total, A, +3
2. SEAN BERGENHEIM (FLA) G, 2 A, +2
3. MIKAEL SAMUELSSON (FLA) 2 A, +3