Dale Tallon walked into TD Garden on Thursday with a spring in his step and a smile on his face. But the Panthers general manager figured he was in for a long night.
The undermanned Panthers held their own for much of the game against the top-end Bruins but gave up a pair of goals in the final seven minutes to fall 4-1.
The Panthers, with eight regulars on the shelf, have lost five in a row and eight of nine as they remain stuck in last place with 20 points. The Bruins, meanwhile, are a point out of first in the Eastern Conference.
“We have to find some puck luck and get that first goal,” coach Kevin Dineen said. “Just keep on searching for the answers. Obviously, there’s a lot of try out there right now. I think these guys are pushing as hard as they can.’’
On Wednesday, the Panthers found out star forward Kris Versteeg needs season-ending surgery on his right knee — knocking two-thirds of Florida’s top line from last season out for the rest of the year.
The Panthers’ injury list is so deep and so long the Bruins massive scoreboard came close to running out of room listing it before the game.
Although Dineen has refused to make excuses regarding Florida’s Santa-sized injury report, Tallon is realistic and knows it’s hard for an NHL team to compete missing “our starting goalie, three of our top defensemen and four of our top nine forwards.”
Florida currently has $23 million of salary (according to last year’s non-lockout figures) on the sidelines.
“Look at all the 20-goal scorers we’re missing,” Tallon said.
On Thursday, the Panthers rag-tag bunch came out flying and put pressure on Tuukka Rask by taking the first five shots. Yet Boston took the 1-0 lead when Zdeno Chara scored off a 30-foot slap shot on Boston’s second shot of the night.
About 11 minutes later, Patrice Bergeron scored his first of the game to make it 2-0. Scott Clemmensen faced 16 shots in the opening period alone and ended with 28 saves.
The Panthers have surrendered the initial lead in nine of 11 games and have allowed the opening goal within the first three shots of a game in five in a row.
Florida cut its deficit in half in the second when Shawn Matthias had another spectacular goal.
This one came thanks to a combination of hustle and skill as he beat Dougie Hamilton to the puck as both dove to the ice.
Matthias was able to hop up, corral the puck and deke out Rask to make it 2-1 — all while the Panthers were killing a penalty.
Florida gave Boston all it could handle from there on out, but the Bruins put the finishing touches on things when Shawn Thornton pounced on a loose puck — off his own shot — when the Panthers’ defense broke down in front of the net.
Clemmensen and three other Florida players chased the puck — only it bounced back to Thornton as he slammed it into the empty net.