The Florida Panthers played a very sturdy defensive game tonight, coming up shy against the Boston Bruins in overtime.
Both teams tonight didn’t seem to bring their “A-game” on Thursday, with the two explosive offenses mustering just one goal each in regulation. The Florida Panthers had just three shots in the opening frame on B’s keeper Jaroslav Halak. Halak recorded 32 saves on the night, always tends to be a struggle for the Panthers to beat.
In the Panthers’ frame, Chris Driedger made a triumphant return for Joel Quenneville‘s team. Driedger, in his first game back since January 16th, made 25 saves, including a few beauties on Brad Marchand to keep him off the scoreboard.
The first period saw the Panthers be outplayed, but there were chances far and in between. Aleksander Barkov had a chance hit the side of the net, Keith Yandle saw a shot just inch across the goal line, and Mike Matheson had a wrist shot go just wide.
The tempers were flaring early on in this game. New Bruins forwards Ondrej Kase and Nick Ritchie both were involved in penalties in the first. Kase wiped out Evgenii Dadonov, which led to Riley Stillman sticking up for his teammate, eventually getting into a fight with Ritchie.
The penalty calls in this game were very important, but more on that later.
As the second period opened, it was the Panthers who took the game by the throat. The third line of Brett Connolly, Lucas Wallmark, and Dominic Toninato created a whole host of chances for the Panthers, who recorded 15 SOGs in comparison to the first period’s three.
Without a doubt, the best player defensively tonight was MacKenzie Weegar, who covered most of the Panthers’ defensive zone, making key interceptions and blocks to keep Chris Driedger’s frame safe. He was rewarded by such play with a goal, spearing an Aaron Ekblad setup into the top right corner, giving the Panthers the first goal of the night.
The secondary assist came from Lucas Wallmark, who recorded his first point as a member of the Florida Panthers. Wallmark was solid tonight after a few shaky first games for Florida.
After that came the game’s biggest moment of controversy. With the puck in the corner of the Boston zone, Evgenii Dadonov went to chase it down, with Brendan Carlo hot in pursuit. Trying to adjust to play the puck (which bounced off the wall), Dadonov’s right elbow was planted right into the face of Carlo, who would be forced to leave the game.
Now, initially the call on the ice was a 5:00 major because of the injury. This would mean that regardless of any goals, Boston would retain the power play for the whole five minutes. The call went to review and was overturned, making it a 2:00 minor. Boston would go on to score on this penalty, with Patrice Bergeron deflecting Torey Krug‘s shot past Driedger to level the game at one.
Watching it back on replay, it seemed as though the refs made the right decision in changing the call. There was no “ill-will” per say when Dadonov laid the elbow, but the NHL Player Safety rules are trying to crack down on these kinds of plays. We’ll see later on in the week if Florida’s winger is fined or suspended for the hit, it’s anybody’s guess.
The first six minutes of the third period were absolutely wild. Four penalties (including two on Frank Vatrano) were called in the span of 2:50, two going against each team. The power plays from each team were pretty abysmal tonight, a combined 1/8 between the two, with the game settling down after the trips to the box.
In the final ten minutes, neither team seemed to be able to carve out any clear cut chances, with both teams playing really good physical hockey, laboring the game into overtime. That’s something that the Panthers can look positively about, this is one of the best (if not the best) physical teams in the league this season, and they were with them neck-and-neck the whole game.
In overtime, the Panthers got the exact chance they would’ve wanted. Aleksander Barkov sent in on goal, with nobody close to stopping him. To Barkov’s avail, Halak stayed with him, moving to his left to deny the potential game-winner.
Roughly two minutes later, Boston got their winner. Torey Krug, who set up the first goal, rifled a shot past Driedger to give Boston their 43rd win on the season, 2-1 in OT.
The loss extends Florida’s agonizing home losing streak and pushes the Cats further and further away from playoff contention. With the Kings beating Toronto in a shootout, the deficit still remains at five, but the amount of games is shrinking faster and faster.
The Florida Panthers take the ice for their next game on Saturday, in which the club will retire its first jersey number worn by a player, Roberto Luongo‘s #1. Puck drop is scheduled for 7:00 P.M.