In a game with a very large two points up for grabs, the Florida Panthers were done in by two players who have traditionally been “Panther-killers” in Friday’s 5-2 defeat at the hands of the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center. Ilya Kovalchuk scored two goals, including the game winner, and Patrik Elias, playing in his 1000th career game, added a goal and two assists to pace the Devils.
The Panthers, as they have many times this season, fought back from a pair of one goal deficits over the first two periods, but the third belonged to the Devils, who not only took the lead, but added two empty net goals (one of them shorthanded) to turn a close game into an apparent rout. Adam Henrique got things started for Jersey this his backhanded goal past Jacob Markstrom just 3:53 into the game. The Cats would tie it up under four minutes later as Mikael Samuelsson recorded his first goal since being traded from the Vancouver Canucks on 10/22.
The teams once again traded goals in the second period, with Eilas striking first for Jersey just 36 seconds into the period after a furious push from the Devils off the frame’s opening face-off. 2:10 later, the Cats would tie it up from unlikeliest of sources as Krys Barch finished an odd-man rush by burying a feed from Michal Repik. The Panthers had a chance to break the game wide open with several great chances that they could not convert. Kris Versteeg hit a post and sailed a shot over an open net with goalie Johan Hedberg lying on the ice. Converting one of those would’ve dramatically altered the game’s landscape, but instead they would come back to haunt Florida.
The Devils would conjure up three goals over the game’s final 10 minutes. Kovalchuk and Elias would combine on the game winner at 11:40 before Kovalchuk and Zach Parise would add their empty netters that would put the baby to bed in the final minute.
This is one of the games that will stand out should things go bad for the Panthers. This was a game they could’ve and should’ve collected points from, if not won outright. They received two goals from secondary players while the top line, which has carried the team this far was pointless for the second consecutive game. While you certainly couldn’t have expected that line to maintain that pace all season, this was a game where their presence was needed, especially with Versteeg having a few great cracks at net.
The loss leaves the Panthers winless in their last six road games, after being considered ‘road warriors’ for the first 2 months of the season. The question on the minds of many Panthers fans is if the recent results will have Dale Tallon looking to make a move to strengthen the roster ahead trade deadline on February 27. The last time he had concern, he traded struggling David Booth to Vancouver. With teams like the Columbus Blue Jackets, Anaheim Ducks and Carolina Hurricanes rumored to be sellers, this would be an opportune time to add scoring to a team that has to fight to score more than 3 goals per game. With a brutal January schedule ahead, don’t be surprised if this team makes a move or two in the near future.
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