The Florida Panthers came into Minnesota with two games remaining before the All-Star break, looking to create some ground on their divisional opponents.
Minnesota came out pouring with pressure early on, looking to capitalize early against the visiting Florida Panthers. The Cats, on the other hand, were able to contain the Wild’s energy, with some help from Sergei Bobrovsky.
When least expected, the Panthers hit the Wild hard off a counter-attack as Mike Hoffman beautifully sprung Keith Yandle near the goal, with Yandle only having to put the puck in the empty net to give Florida a 1-0 lead.
With a goal up, the Wild upped their tempo even further, drawing the game’s first power play. Fortunately enough, however, the Panthers’ PK unit killed off Josh Brown’s penalty successfully, preserving their one-goal lead.
As the Wild continued attacking in waves, Bobrovsky was forced to come up big with a couple of dominant saves to keep his side in the lead. Bobrovsky stood tall after the Panthers returned to even strength and continued to sleep on the job. Jason Zucker came flying into the zone and attacked Bobrovsky’s goal with force and speed, while Bob stopped Zucker not once, but twice to keep Florida in the driver’s seat.
Unfortunately, Bobrovsky could only prevail for so long as the Wild were rewarded with a second power-play chance after Anton Stralman flipped the puck out of play. This time, the Wild didn’t waste any time getting on the scoresheet.
A shot from the point redirected off the boards and within the site of Eric Staal – who was battling in front of a crowded crease. Staal’s initial shot was saved by the pad of Bobrovsky, but the follow-up by Jared Spurgeon was placed over the Russian netminder to level the game at one.
The Panthers needed a better second and a better second is what they got after they came out with more energy. Instead of the Wild taking play to them, they decided to take the play in their end, forcing the home side to ice the puck in desperation.
As the Panthers’ pressure became too difficult to handle, the Wild were playing carelessly, making ill-advised decisions. One of those decisions happened to be a trip on Noel Acciari by Jason Zucker, sending the Panthers to their first man advantage of the night.
Florida started the power play off with some good movement and chances created, but it all went downhill after Aaron Ekblad got caught pinching too high, sending two Wild players charging the other way on a fast break. Luke Kunin managed to squeeze a shot past Bobrovsky to tie the game once again. That was the second shorthanded goal the Panthers conceded on the season – ranked as the fewest figure given up by any NHL team this year.
The Wild continued to cause all sorts of problems as Staal got behind two Panther defensemen, sprung clear on a breakaway but missing high on his chance. At the other end of the ice, the Panthers were finding it hard to create real-estate for their forwards to move into. Minnesota grinded their way to the second intermission tied at two goals apiece.
Early in the third, the Panthers drew another power play after Frank Vatrano was boarded by Kevin Fiala. On their second attempt, though, the Cats were able to cash-in, thanks to Evgenii Dadonov – who redirected Yandle’s point shot.
The Panthers’ lead, again, didn’t last long as the Wild were returning to a power play of their own after Mike Matheson tripped Fiala going the other way. Like the Panthers, the Wild didn’t take long to capitalize on their chance, with Zach Parise pouncing on a rebound to even the game at three.
Shortly after, the Wild took their first lead of the night after Kunin snapped a shot past Bobrovsky, which deflected off his glove and into the net. Suddenly, the Panthers found themselves playing from behind, having to catch up late in the game.
This adversity didn’t affect the Panthers one bit, even when Vatrano committed a penalty and the Cats were shorthanded late in the third. Just minutes after Vatrano’s penalty was killed, Vincent Trocheck wristed a shot between Stalock’s five-hole to bring the Panthers leveled again.
Florida wasn’t satisfied with just tying the game, so they continued fighting until the very end. Fortunately, they were gifted a late-thrilling goal with 5.6 seconds remaining on the clock after Acciari got a piece of Mark Pysyk’s shot. The goal would lead the Florida Panthers to a 5-4 comeback victory over the Minnesota Wild.
All in all, the game certainly wasn’t one of the prettier efforts that we’ve seen from the Panthers this season. However, despite the sloppiness that was displayed, the Panthers continued fighting until the very end, no matter what was in their way.
Florida has one game remaining until they conclude for the All-Star break. Now two points ahead of the Toronto Maple Leafs with a game in hand, the Panthers need to do everything in their power to build that cushion to four points with a win over the Chicago Blackhawks.
Your Panthers are back in action on Tuesday, January. 21 @ 8:30 P.M. against the Chicago Blackhawks, where Joel Quenneville will make his return back to Chi-Town.