Florida Panthers Win, Thornton Sets Milestone


In what could possibly have been the biggest game over the last three years for the Florida Panthers, it certainly lived up the occasion in the second meeting of the season against the Boston Bruins out of four. Before the game, the Bruins sat seven point above the Panthers in the last Wild Card spot in the NHL Eastern Conference.

Over 17,000 were in attendance and with fans of both teams loudly cheering on their respective squad, players and fans claimed that it felt like a playoff game. The Panthers had not been able to beat the Bruins since a 6-2 victory in Florida on March 15, 2012. The two teams have matched up ten times in between.

The game started off physical right off the bat and the Panthers were able to better the Bruins in that department throughout the game, outhitting them 49-33. The Bruins were able to dominate in the shot department with a flurry of shots at Panthers goaltender Roberto Luongo with a 7-2 shot lead at one point early on.

However, the Panthers struck first when at 5:19 left in the period, Boston native forward Jimmy Hayes gave the Panthers a 1-0 lead with his 18th goal of the season in the way he does best by screening Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask. Hayes had been a healthy scratch in the previous Panthers game against the Detroit Red Wings, so this was a nice monkey off of his back. Assists were given to forwards Dave Bolland and Jussi Jokinen.

“Jimmy played hard, went to the net. No one wants to be a healthy scratch.” said Panthers head coach Gerard Gallant.

Florida Panthers
Florida Panthers /

Florida Panthers

The Bruins led in shots in that 1st Period 12-9 as they were able to get some good dominance in the Florida zone after the Hayes goal. The Panthers could not capitalize on their two power play chances nor could the Bruins on their one chance.

The 2nd Period was very even as the Panthers lead in shots 8-7. The Bruins scored the only goal of the period 2:52 in when forward Patrice Bergeron took advantage of a bad Dave Bolland high-sticking penalty to net his 20th goal of the season on the power play to tie the game at 1-1. Assists went to forward Ryan Spooner and defenseman Dougie Hamilton. The Bruins went 1 for 2 on their power play chances and the Panthers still could not score on their one chance with the man advantage.

The 3rd Period was very similar to the 2nd Period. Both teams played very physical and defensive as the Bruins lead in shots 8-6. Dave Bolland missed an empty net, which would have been very essential to give the Panthers a 2-1 lead. Nevertheless, both teams could not finish the job in regulation and overtime came. Both teams earned huge one points and the Panthers desperately needed a second.

The Bruins had won the only matchup between the two teams this season with a 2-1 overtime win back on November 4th in Boston with the game winner by forward Brad Marchand. Despite the Panthers outshooting the Bruins 2-0 in overtime with many big chances, the game went to a shootout. Both goaltenders played respectively well as Luongo made 26 saves and Rask with 24.

“Lou was great. He looks rejuvenated like the two weeks off really did him good. He has great jump in his legs.” stated Gallant.

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Florida had a slight advantage in shootouts this season with a 7-10 record compared to Boston’s 3-8. Red hot Panthers forward Brandon Pirri has been on fire lately with four goals in his last four previous games. With the Bergeron and Marchand shots rejected by Luongo and the Panthers having forward Jonathan Huberdeau attempt denied by Rask, there was no better player than Pirri to give the Panthers life in the shootout.

He did just that with a shot by Rask and to put the Bruins in sudden death. Luongo denied Spooner’s final attempt and the Panthers picked up an absolute huge point on the Bruins to now be four points behind them in the Wild Card race. Especially, since the Ottawa Senators had beaten the Toronto Maple Leafs around the same time 5-3. The Senators are currently one point behind the Bruins with a game in hand.

This win was especially huge for Panthers forwards Jimmy Hayes and Shawn Thornton. As noted earlier, Hayes is a Boston native and played college hockey at Boston College. His goal in the 1st Period was so key to get the Panthers on the board first. Thornton spent seven seasons with the Bruins until this season before coming to Florida. He ironically played in his 600th NHL game and was a big part in the physical department in this game to keep the team’s momentum up.

It is a good feeling in here. The guys had a sense of urgency from the start. There were no passengers. Everyone played their hardest. We will take the two points. We would rather have taken it in regulation, but we will take this. Everything was about beating them. We have to catch them.” said Thornton of the Bruins.

The Bruins travel up the state to Florida on Sunday with a late afternoon game against the Tampa Bay Lightning as the Panthers also meet their cross-state rivals in Tampa on Tuesday. Every remaining game is so crucial with only ten games left in the regular season.

“These are practically playoff games for us. We have to dig deep, and we know it is not going to be easy. We saw it. It’s going to be physical. Not a lot of room. One mistake can cost you. This was a good playoff-type game for us. We will take the two points and focus on the next one.” Roberto Luongo stated

Panthers defenseman Erik Gudbranson agreed by saying “You see a lot of desperation coming from us. We believe we can make the playoffs. If we continue to play they way we are, we are going to be in good shape.”

Pirri was quite content with the game winner in the shootout as well and stated “I think beating them, right now, instills a lot of confidence in our locker room. We’re riding pretty high. Lou is playing great and giving us a chance every night. If we get a couple, he’s going to win it for us.”