The road hasn’t been kind to the Florida Panthers for the past month. After starting the season as ‘Road Warriors’, they came into Saturday’s contest against the Winnipeg Jets winless on the road since December 8th, including blowouts against the New York Rangers, Boston Bruins, and Pittsburgh Penguins. And Saturday’s game didn’t set up in their favor as they played Friday night in snowy Chicago and then didn’t arrive in Winnipeg until very early Saturday morning. Even with that plus blowing a 2-0 lead, the Panthers were able to come out of the ‘Peg with a 4-3 win, in the shootout nonetheless.
Playing on a line with Marcel Goc and Tomas Kopecky, Kris Versteeg ended a nine game goal drought with a backhanded finish of a cross-ice Goc pass to open the game’s account. He hadn’t lit the lamp since the December 27th in a win against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Mike Santorelli would send the Cats into the dressing room for the first intermission with a 2-0 lead when he was able to get a stick on a Krys Barch shot with just 16 seconds left in the period. The goal came after a big offensive zone faceoff win from Santorelli and some strong stickhandling from Versteeg to help create the chance.
The Panthers were fortunate to end the second period clinging to a 2-1 lead as the session seemed like a 20 minute Jet power play as they outshot Florida 15-7. Nik Antropov scored the period’s only goal on the power play as he buried a Kyle Wellwood pass from close range. Scott Clemmensen had no chance on the play as the big Antropov had free reign in front of the net. It wouldn’t be the last time his defense failed him in the game.
Winnipeg would tie things up in the third Antropov would skate through the Panthers zone unmolested, use an Andrew Ladd screen and fire a wrister from the slot that beat Clemmensen just under six minutes into the period. But what should have been a tired den of Cats showed the push back that coach Kevin Dineen loves to see. The Panthers would retake the lead less than a minute later when Versteeg would steal a Tobias Enstrom pass at the blue line and launch a wrister that ricocheted off Ondrej Pavelec’s shoulder and slowly bounced in the net, giving Versteeg a three point night.
The lead, however, wouldn’t last as Jets would tie it up as Clemmensen’s defense would let him down again. Alexander Burmistrov found himself quarantined to Clemmensen’s right and beat him short-side to tie it up at 3 with 6:15 left to play. The Jets would own the chances the rest of the way as they once again heartily out-shot the Panthers in the period 10-3 but Clemmensen would stand strong in his cage through the rest of the period and OT. He’d end the night with 41 saves as his net was under siege most of the night.
Despite both teams having quality cracks on net in the overtime session, neither could net the game-winner and the game headed for the dreaded shootout, a Panthers achilles heel. It took seven rounds to decide it but Mikael Samuelsson netted the game-winner in the bottom half of the round to send the Panthers back to Sunrise victorious.
Normally, you lament having a three-point game inside your own division, especially with a team close to you in the standings, but you won’t hear anyone complain about this one. This team needed a win, any win, and they needed it badly. With the Philadelphia Flyers waiting on Tuesday, the Cats were in danger of ending the month with only one win (Jan 9 against Vancouver). This result now gives the Panthers some positive momentum heading into that game and give the guys in the dressing room a much needed boost. More importantly, the Kris Versteeg that showed up Saturday looked very much like the guy who paced the Panthers in scoring all season long. More games like Saturday will go a long way in getting this team back on track post All-Star break. And you have to give Santorelli some credit for a solid game one day after being scratched in Chicago. It was enough for Kevin Dineen to trust him in the shootout and he responded by rescuing the Cats with his goal in the fourth round of the shootout. And most importantly, the win puts the Panthers back atop the Southeast division as the Washington Capitals were idle but play the Penguins on Sunday.
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Topics: Alexander Burmistrov, Andrew Ladd, Boston Bruins, Florida Panthers, Kevin Dineen, Kris Versteeg, Krys Barch, Kyle Wellwood, Marcel Goc, Mikael Samuelsson, Mike Santorelli, New York Rangers, Nik Antropov, Ondrej Pavelec, Pittsburgh Penguins, Scott Clemmensen, Tobias Enstrom, Tomas Kopecky, Toronto Maple Leafs, Washington Capitals, Winnipeg Jets