It took some extra hockey and some extra energy last night from the Florida Panthers to pull out a shootout victory over the Atlanta Thrashers last night winning 2-1. Steve Bernier who was place on waivers Thursday afternoon was the eventual hero as he found himself in an unusual place, picking a game winner in the shootout. Bernier who has had a fairly uneventful career after being drafted 16th overall by San Jose in 2003, was chosen by head coach Peter DeBoer to redeem himself. Bernier responded to the challenge to send the Panthers home with a win as they closed out their four game road trip.
Panther forward Marty Reasoner who continues his steady play got the Panthers on the board first in the opening period with his 12th goal of the season, which was answered by newly acquired Thrasher Blake Wheeler, and the first period ended in a 1-1 tie. No surprise to one goal games the teams exchanged scoring chances throughout. Tomas Vokoun who had a stellar night in goal stopped 45 shots. He probably would like to have the Wheeler goal back as he was caught leaning to the wrong side and Wheeler stuffed it home for the tie.
Ondrej Pavelec started for Atlanta in goal but was replaced by Chris Mason after the first period. No word on whether Pavelec was injured or not as he remained on the bench for the balance of the game.
Speaking of injuries, and this is where the Panthers showed their desperation last night. Rostislaz Olesz went down early in the first period after locking skates with Thrasher defenceman Mark Stuart on what appears to be a clean hit. Rusty went down awkwardly and needed help getting off the ice. The injury doesn’t look good for the much maligned forward, and it was reported this morning that he is likely done for the season. Chris Higgins also suffered what is believed to be a thumb injury after taking a shot off his hand during the first period. Higgins didn’t return to the game either, and the Panthers were forced to play with 10 forwards. Both injuries will potentially change how the Panthers approach the trade deadline on Monday.
Newcomer Alexander Sulzer who was acquired from Nashville for a condiditional draft pick on Friday made his Panther debut and played a very respectable 20 plus minutes. Not flashy and mostly a stay at home guy, the pick will be based on him resigning in he off season or not. Dennis Wideman sat out the game with a minor iinjury that the club is not discussing.
Atlanta has gone 3-11-5 since beating Florida back on January 5th as their slide out of playoff contention continues. This loss was their fifth in a row and 16th of their last 19.
At this point all the Panthers can do is play desperate hockey. They chances that they had earlier in the season to close out games is coming back to haunt them. While not completely out of the race, time and the amount of games left will become a factor. These recent injuries don’t help. With New Jersey up next on Sunday the challenges don’t get any easier.
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