Mike Santorelli Checked By Johan Hedberg. Source: Bill Kostroun AP

Bizarre Night Ends In Panther Victory.

It was bad enough to have been facing one of the hotest teams in the NHL at the time, with their playoff hopes hanging by a thread, but the Florida Panthers survived weird goals, bad bounces and earned a victory in overtime over the New Jersey Devils Friday night.  Rusty Olesz meandered into the offensive zone and placed a very sharp angled shot past Devils goaltender Johan Hedberg for the win two minutes into O.T.

Jubilation, smiles, relief and coming home for a five game homestand which includes some stiff competition, the Panthers now find themselves FIVE points out of a playoff spot, as they continue to chase the slumping Atlanta ThrashersChris Higgins started the scoring as he put a rebound in of a shot by Steve Bernier who may just be licking up the pace some to give the Panthers the lead to start the game.  Then the sillyness began, or should I say the bad bounces?  Travis Zajac scored on a weird bounce off the glass behind Panther  goaltender Tomas Vokoun, which found the puck sitting in the slot, and Zajac tapped it in to tie the game at one.

Then Jason Arnott put home a rebound of a shot from defensemen Henrik Talender, giving the Devils a 2-1 edge, with all bounces going their way.  Dennis Wideman tied the game for Florida when he scored on the power play with Michael Frolik creating traffic in the crease, tying the game at 2.  But New Jersey’s Mark Fayne (who?) tossed or chipped might be a better word, a high shot toward Tomas Vokoun, and Jersey forward Nick Palmieri ducked out of the way and the biscuit was in the basket.  The game was looking more like golf than hockey at that point.

Vokoun was his usual solid self last night and he made a brilliant save on Patrik Elias in the third period to keep the Panthers within one, and keep their hopes of tying the game alive.  Facing the prospect of having the game being decided by one goal, the Cats needed to tie things up and they did as Mike Santorelli stole the puck in the Panthers zone, then used his speed to get to the Devils zone, and as Devils goalie Johan Hedberg tried to make a poke check, Santorelli faked him out, and made no mistake and buried his shot.  Without the use of a bounce.

Zajac almost deflated the situation for the Panther faithful when he took a shot late in the third which clanked off the post to the relief of everyone in Pantherland.  As the game went into overtime the Panthers would continue their game plan of hard work and ended it with Olesz’s goal for the winner.  Three games in four nights since the All-Star break for these tired Cats, but bad luck was not going to stop them on this night.  The Panthers played their league leading 30th one goal game, in which five straight on this road trip.  Their record in one goal games now stands at 13-11-6.   They have also seen seven of their last 12 games go into overtime.

This victory now finds Florida in 10th place ahead of Buffalo, and five points behind the Atlanta Thrashers who may have hit the wall.  The Panthers have two games at hand and will begin a difficult, but season defining five game homestand starting Tuesday night against the St. Louis Blues.  10 available points on this upcoming homestand and while I’d love to say let’s get all 10, realistically if we can get 7, including all four from the two Eastern Conference teams, we still could be in this.

One last thing, I’m really starting to like the play of Keaton Ellerby recently.  With each game he’s played he’s beginning to look as though he finally belongs.  Please however stop comparing him to Jay Bouwmeester.  Ellerby is physical and uses his size to go along with his skating ability.  Maybe Keaton just needs to get a new number.

Here’s the TSN Boxscore.

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Tags: Bounces Florida Panthers Fluky Goals Keaton Ellerby New Jersey Devils Rusty Olesz Tomas Vokun Travis Zajac

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