Panthers Top Canadiens Amid Controversey

SUNRISE, Fla. –Riding on the shoulders on Tomas Fleischmann, the Florida Panthers battled back, beating the Montreal Canadiens 3-2 at the BankAtlantic Center on New Years Eve. It was the first time the Panthers had won the annual holiday home meeting since December 29, 2006 when they won 3-1 in Sunrise. Nathan Horton scored the game winning goal in that one.

The Canadiens drew first blood in the opening frame, as Travis Moen took a pass from Lars Eller. His slap shot from the left side at 5:37 made the score 1-0. It was his ninth of the season, with Tomas Kaberle getting the second assist.

The Panthers got the equalizer in the second, after Max Pacioretty took a penalty for holding, the Panthers found themselves on a powerplay. Stephen Weiss ran the rush up center, dropping the puck to his right for Tomas Fleischmann, who took a hard shot past Carey Price. It was hist 14th goal of the season, and with the assist, Weiss tied Olli Jokinen for the franchise record of 131 assists.

Just 4:16 into the second period, Kevin Dineen was forced to make his second mid-period goaltending change in as many nights. This time, José Théodore was hit by his own man, Dmitry Kulikov, who was attempting to keep a Canadiens’ player from hitting the Panthers’ net-minder. Théodore’s mask hit the post as he went down in pain. He is is listed to have a “lower body injury.” Coach Dineen said he expects the goalie to be out until at least next Monday.

In the third, Shawn Matthias got the puck at center from Ed Jovanovski and drove it up the ice. He went to the left and ripped a hard slap shot. Matthias’ seventh goal of the season made the game 2-1 Panthers 3:08 into the final frame.

Fleischmann seemingly iced the game with 40 seconds left in the game as he intercepted the puck in the neutral zone and raced down the left side. He shot the puck into the open net to make it 3-1, but Erik Cole quickly put a tally on the board for Montreal to keep them alive with 29 seconds left, cutting the lead in half to 3-2.

Florida’s victory came at a huge cost for both the Panthers and the NHL. As the first period ended, the two teams engaged in a scrum to the right of Théodore. At the end of the day, P.K. Subban and Erik Gudbranson each were tabbed with two minutes for slashing and an extra two for roughing. As the teams skated to the benches, linesman Darren Gibbs allegedly overheard Krys Barch yell a racial slur at Subban, who is Black.

““Personally I didn’t hear anything. I don’t even know what happened, really,” Subban said. “A couple of guys on the ice told me that something was said. I don’t know what was said, I didn’t hear it. As far as I’m concerned it’s really out of my hands, so I don’t really know too much about it.”

Canadiens coach Randy Cunneyworth echoed Subban’s comments, saying he was unaware of what was actually said, as well.

“I know it was some sort of a game misconduct,” he said. “We’re not aware of the exact words in any way and we don’t think we’ll ever find out. The bottom line is there is no room for that.

“Those things have to be [addressed immediately] and the referees are on the ball about those kinds of incidents.”

This is at least the second time this year the league has been faced with racial incidents. In an exhibition game in September between the Detroit Red Wings and the Philadelphia Flyers in London, ON, a fan threw a banana peel at Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds, who is also Black.
While Barch was unavailable for comment, the Panthers made it clear that racial slurs are unacceptable.
“This is not what the character of this organization is about. Period. I’m devastated by that kind of behavior,” Panthers’ general partner Cliff Viner told George Richards of the Miami Herald. “Dale [Tallon], I’m sure, will be very critical of this. I hope they talk to the team and let them know this is unacceptable. You play hard, you fight hard. But that’s not part of any competition.”
“We have a broken up player back there,” Dineen said. “He feels extremely bad that there was an insinuation that something inappropriate was said. Now it’s a league matter. Obviously the Florida Panthers and Krys Barch are really shaken up about this.”
According to replays, Barch was on the Panthers bench when the alleged incident took place, not in the scrum as originally reported. Barch’s teammates, friends, and agent came to his defense via Twitter after the game.
“Spoke to client Krys Barch and I 100% stand behind him that there was no racial motivation at all involved! Truth will come out,” said he agent, Scott Norton of Norton Sports Agency. “I have known Krys Barch since he was 15 yrs old, and he is a quality, character human being. He did not, nor would ever, make a racial slur.”
The league will investigate the issue, and many questions that are still up in the air about this alleged incident will be answered in the coming days.
  • In other disciplinary news, Panthers forward Tomas Kopecky and New York Rangers defenseman Michael Del Zotto both received a $2,500 fine, the maximum allowed by the league, for their actions last night. After Del Zotto hit Kopecky in the face with the butt end of his stick, he was punched in the face by Kopecky. Kopecky was then ambushed by Mike Rupp, who suffered no disciplinary action.
  • A crowd of 20,908 attended the game tonight, and the Panthers drew over 20,000 a game for each of the three games this week.
  • Scott Clemmensen was nearly perfect in relief, allowing just one goal over 35 minutes after José Théodore left due to injury.
  • The Panthers are 20-12-7 on the year. It is the fourth time they have had 20 wins to end the first calendar year of a season.