Regardless of what happened in Friday night’s game against the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Florida Panthers had already had a successful four game Thanksgiving home stand by going 3-0 in the first three games. But the team, as well as fans, saw a chance to go on the first four-game win streak of the season and take all eight points up for grabs during the week. Instead the cross-state rival Lightning spoiled the party with a 2-1 win in overtime. The offensively stout Bolts outshot the Panthers (31-24) for the first time in a week, the final one coming off the stick of Steven Stamkos for the winner.
The first period ended scoreless as the neither team was able to generate a whole lot of offense, despite the Panthers having two power play opportunities. It would stay that way until midway through the second period when Tomas Fleischmann finished a 2-on-1 breakaway off a great cross-ice pass from Stephen Weiss to give the Panthers a 1-0 lead.
It’s a lead the Cats would hold until 11:01 of the third when one of Tampa’s Big 3, who haven’t had much success against them the past few seasons, finally broke through. A rare defensive miscue from Brian Campbell allowed Martin St Louis to get a pass to Vinny Levcavalier, who skated in alone on Jose Theodore. Theo was able to make the initial stop, but the Lightning captain kept banging away and was able to put his own rebound in.
With neither team able to get the game winner in regulation, the game went to overtime, where a Dmitry Kulikov penalty :48 in put the Panthers immediately behind the eight ball. The Panthers penalty kill unit, a strength of the team the past few weeks, killed 1:39 of the penalty off before Stamkos struck for the difference. St Louis found Stamkos at the left faceoff circle (which is very quickly becoming his ‘office’), who one-timed a rocket to Theodore’s short side into the net, giving the Bolts a 2-1 win.
So the Panthers finish up their Thanksgiving feast by going 3-0-1 and taking seven out of a possible right points, but Friday’s game bring a problem to the forefront once again: secondary scoring. On a night where the Fleischmann-Weiss-Kris Versteeg line scoring one goal, the other ten forwards (7 D-men dressed in this game) couldn’t contribute on the scoreboard. It’s certainly not from a lack of trying. The secondary forwards combined for 17 of the Cats 24 shots with Jack Skille and Mike Santorelli leading the way with four a piece. But, at some point, the effort has to show up on the scoreboard. The secondary forwards did not produce a point in the home stand and haven’t done so since Santorelli’s unassisted goal against the St Louis Blues on 11/17.
If the problem were effort, things might be easier for coach Kevin Dineen as he simply would have the option of benching guys, but it’s not. Couple that with the rash of injuries this team has dealt with recently (Marcel Goc, Scottie Upshall and Tomas Kopecky all missed Friday’s game), the team’s depth is already being put to the test. It’s one of those things the guys are just going to have to play through and break through. And, of course, a lucky bounce or two wouldn’t hurt.
The Cats finish off a busy week Saturday against the same Lightning team before they head to Carolina, Los Angeles and San Jose. And if there is a bright side to the loss, it’s that the one point earned actually extended the Cats lead in the division as the New York Rangers beat the Washington Capitals in regulation. Ah, the upside to a three-point game.
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