For all the talent stocking the Panthers and Islanders rosters, Saturday night’s first meeting since their playoff series last spring taught the lesson that sometimes, you’ve got to go hockey’s version of Cro-Magnon: just shoot the puck.
That’s how the Isles took a two-goal lead into the third period. That’s how the Panthers sent it into overtime on goals by Kyle Rau and Jonathan Marchessault, the latter with 13.6 seconds left.
And that’s how the Panthers won it, on a deflection by Denis Malgin with 45.8 seconds left in overtime. Malgin redirected Vincent Trocheck’s blue line wrister home to give the Panthers a 3-2 win at BB&T Center.
“That was a big win for us,” Panthers goalie Roberto Luongo said. “Not just the matter of getitng a win, but something of a rallying point for guys. Hopefully, we can build around, take the momentum, the emotions of the win and carry it through the next little while here.”
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Panthers coach Gerard Gallant said, “If we would’ve lost tonight, it would’ve been really tough -- two games under .500 with four games on the road against some real good hockey clubs. It’s a really big win for our team tonight, but (Sunday) we’ve got to go on the road and get ready to play again.”
Rau picked up the first goal of his NHL career by shooting from low in the left circle, picking up his own rebound along the goal line and shooting a bad angle shot. But, he gave himself a chance by shooting and the chance paid off when the shot hit goalie Jaroslav Halak’s right arm and snuck inside the near post.
Down 2-1, the Panthers had 11:06 left to tie the game and used almost all of it. Marchessault curled in the right circle to launch a wrister that seeped through Halak and just over the goal line.
Last spring, the Panthers and Islanders appeared to be two rising teams. But Saturday, they were two teams with under .500 records trying to get themselves together.
Between that and lingering feelings over the playoffs, an extra helping of surliness coated the game.
Despite their 14-7 shot advantage as the first period wound down, the Panthers seemed to eschew many shot opportunities in favor of east-west passes to get Halak moving side-to-side.
Then, New York did just that to Luongo by just firing away. Jason Chimera’s beautiful backhand pass from the right rear boards found Calvin De Haan in the left circle. De Haan fired away, missing the net, but getting a fortunate carom to Brock Nelson in the right circle. With Luongo committed hard toward De Haan, Nelson had time to collect, settle and knock home the rebound with 22.0 seconds left in the first.
As much as that goal deflated the Panthers, they got infuriated by the Islanders next goal and the Panthers next goal that wasn’t.
The former occurred at 9:54 with Panthers defenseman Alex Petrovic in the box for tripping. Nelson, knotted with defenseman Mark Pysyk, crowded Luongo’s workspace as a Nick Leddy blast entered the crease. As the shot caromed and popped in the air, Luongo appeared to get his glove hand obstructed by Nelson. Upon descent, the puck bounced behind Luongo.
Officials called it a goal. The Panthers challenged. The call was upheld.
Luongo’s fury hadn’t abated by the time, almost three minutes later, Nelson made a token swipe at a loose rebound blown dead. Michael Matheson shoved Nelson toward the rear boards, but Luongo channeled Rocky Marciano with overhand shots to Nelson’s head. Somehow, Nelson got the only penalty out of the scrum, for slashing.
“I kind of lost it a little bit there,” Luongo chuckled. “I needed to let off some steam. It was a tough game for everybody the way it was going -- the bounces, the calls. But, good teams, that’s what they do. They stick with it and overcome adversity, whatever it is.”
An Aaron Ekblad blast that beat Halak got waved off instantly because Jaromir Jagr had bumped Halak just before the shot. Officials discussed the call, reversed themselves and ruled “goal.” The Islanders challenged and the call was overturned.
“We were down only 2-0,” Gallant said. “We were disappointed with some of the calls, right or wrong. The guys were frustrated a little bit. They were whacking Lou a little bit there, so he took matters into his own hands, which was good. He showed some emotion for our team. Between the seocnd and third, we talked about ‘We’re only down 2-0. We’ve given up some comebacks in the last two weeks, so lets try to comeback. Battle hard and see what happens.’”
The Panthers claimed forward Seth Griffith from Toronto on Saturday. Griffith will join the team for Tuesday’s game in Montreal.
Boston drafted Griffith in the fifth round and saw him turn into a consistent minor league scorer for the Bruins’ AHL affiliate in Providence. He led the AHL in assists last year with 53 in just 57 games and his 77 points were second. Still, the Bruins waived him and Toronto claimed him. He got into only three games before being waived by the Maple Leafs.
With the claiming of Griffith, the Panthers sent forward Shane Harper down to Springfield.
Panthers center Nick Bjugstad skated Saturday and could be back in the lineup next week. Bjugstad hasn’t played this season yet after breaking his hand during the preseason.