The Day After: Matthias, Panthers Ruin Muller’s Carolina Debut


After a post-Thanksgiving losing streak soured a great week of hockey, the Florida Panthers must’ve been roaring to get back on the ice and get rinse away that bad taste those two losses left. In the way Tuesday was a Carolina Hurricanes team eager to turn their season around and impress new bench boss Kirk Muller in his first game as a NHL coach. Muller will have to wait for another day to get win number one, as the Panthers scored two late to win 3-1.

In the first period, the Panthers played like they still had bellies full of turkey and weary legs as the Canes took over the period and out-shot the Cats 9-2. And with no goals in the first period, the biggest happening was Panthers leading scorer Kris Versteeg getting his face bloodied again. Versteeg skated with the puck into the Carolina zone and was the recipient of a Derek Joslin elbow square to the face. Astoundingly, no penalty was called on the play (Versteeg returned to the game shortly thereafter) but, Mr. Joslin can expect a phone call from a 212 area code at some point Wednesday saying NHL disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan would like to have a word with him.

In the second period, the Panthers finally broke the deadlock on the scoreboard and, not surprisingly, it was a first-liner that lit the lamp. On the power play (yes, a power play goal!), Stephen Weiss won an offensive zone face-off that ended up on the stick of Brian Campbell. Campbell created some space before feeding it to Tomas Fleischmann, who blasted a slap shot off the post and past Canes netminder Cam Ward.

The lead would only last just 1:04 as second year phenom Jeff Skinner beat Erik Gudbranson to his own rebound and put in a sharp angle shot past Jose Theodore. Despite giving up the goal, it was Theodore who once again kept the Panthers in the game by making save after save, including a save facing his own net.

As the game headed to the third period scoreless, the numbers were firmly on the Florida Panthers side. No team has been worse this season in allowing third period goals than the Carolina Hurricanes, who had allowed 34 coming into this game. On the other hand, the Cats were tied for eighth in third period goal scored with 24. And, as they have done for most of the season, the Panthers waited until late in the period to get that difference making goal, despite having plenty of chances throughout the period (including a Jack Skille penalty shot). With under four minutes to go, a hard-working Tomas Kopecky won a battle along the board just inside the blue line and fed Shawn Matthias who was skating out of the corner. While skating in towards the net on the red line, Matthias threw a shot at Ward that found its way between his pad and the goal post and in to give the Cats a late 2-1 lead. And with :49 left, it was Matthias who put the baby to bed with he won a battle at center ice and fired a shot into the empty net, making it 3-1.

It’s hard to say a game in late November is must-win, but this was pretty close for the Panthers. With a two-game losing streak and a trip to the west coast on tap for later this week, a win Tuesday was imperative, lest they face the prospect of coming back to Sunrise with the possibility of a five-game losing streak. And while this wasn’t the prettiest of wins, the Cats will happily take this one. The road win gives the Panthers eight on the year, tying them with two other teams for most in the league. And with Washington losing Dale Hunter’s coaching debut, the Panthers open up a five point lead in the division, the most of any division leader in the league.

But the news wasn’t all good, as defenseman Dmitry Kulikov skated off the ice in the second period with a aceration and did not return. It’s been reported that he’ll go on the Western road trip but with a deep cut, expect him to miss some time. Next up: a visit to La La land to face the Kings and our old friend Mike Richards.

Also visit Fansided’s Carolina Hurricanes blog for their reaction of Tuesday’s game, Cardiac Cane.

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