The Florida Panthers improved to 2-1-0 on their road trip last night beating the Vancouver Canucks 3-2 in a shootout. Since they broke their nine game losing streak with a win over the Anaheim Ducks, the Panthers have won three out of their last four games. They have also won two straight for the first time this season improving their record to 6-12-4. The Canucks lost their fifth straight game dropping their record to 11-8-4.
Tim Thomas got his fifth win of the season stopping 27 of 29 shots and all three shootout attempts while playing in the building where he clinched the Stanley Cup with the Bruins back in 2011. His counterpart, ex-Panther, Roberto Luongo played well stopping 34 of 36 Panther shots but he did allow Jonathan Huberdeau to score the game winner in the shootout.
The Panthers came out strong in Vancouver scoring a power-play goal at 3:43 into the first period. Brad Boyes got the tally, his team leading eight goal of the year. He was assisted by Aleksander Barkov (5) and Scottie Upshall (7). The goal represented a bit of justice for the Panthers as right before the penalty started, Jimmy Hayes seemingly got a puck past Roberto Luongo but the refs blew the whistle while the puck was still in play thus disallowing the goal.
The Canucks found their rhythm in the second and at 3:26 into the period former Panther Chris Higgins tied things up firing home a bouncing puck in front of the net. The goal for Higgins, a former Panther, was his seventh of the season. He was assisted by another former Panther Mike Santorelli.
A Tomas Fleischmann turnover led to the Canucks second goal. At 2:45 in the third Flash attempted a pass through center ice in the Panthers defensive zone. The pass made it to Aleksander Barkov but skipped over his stick right to Jannik Hansen who converted his wide open chance on Thomas to give Vancouver the lead.
After Vancouver jumped ahead 2-1 in the third, the Panthers tightened things up and took control of the game. They evened the score at 8:34 into the third when Nick Bjugstad made a nice cross-ice feed to Shawn Matthias who one-timed the puck home from the slot. The goal was Matthias’ third of the season. Bjugstad (6) and Tomas Kopecky (2) were credited with the assists.
After tying things up, the momentum was squarely behind the Panthers. Florida outshot Vancouver 11-4 in the third. As time wound down in the third, the Panthers were the team on the offensive and the Canucks, at home, seemed to be packing it in defensively hoping to weather the Panthers storm and get the game to OT. To me, that was the most telling thing about the Panthers recent improvements. On the road and in crunch time, against a good Canucks team, the lowly Panthers, were the ones threatening to score the game winner. That is what you see from good teams not teams expected to finish near the leagues cellar.
Both teams got their chances in OT. The Panthers were awarded a power play early on in the extra frame but were unable to convert on the 4-0n-3 advantage. In the remaining minute-plus of overtime, the Canucks took advantage of a tired group of Panthers and got a slew of opportunities as time ran out. Thankfully Thomas was up to the challenge and the Panthers escaped to the shootout where a Huberdeau goal combined with a trio of Thomas saves (the goal posts may have helped out as well) to get the Panthers the extra point on the road.
Through the first three games of their season long five game road trip, the Panthers are 2-1, having defeated Vancouver and Colorado and just narrowly missing against the Minnesota Wild. The Panthers are finished with the toughest opponents of the trip as the close things out with a back-to-back against Calgary and Edmonton on Thursday and Friday night. If the Panthers continue to play the way they have in their last four games, sweeping their last two games of the trip is a definite possibility.