It might not have had the soundtrack of Billy Joel, but Tim Thomas and Cory Schneider sure put on a show Saturday night.
There would be no encore at Prudential Center, however, as Thomas stormed off the ice after Marek Zidlicky’s one-timer zipped past him with two-plus seconds left in overtime as the Devils won 2-1.
“I was aware that must have been an entertaining game for the fans,” said Thomas, who had 34 saves, including 15 from the third period on. “I was just trying to be the guy who didn’t get scored on.”
Florida picked up a point in the standings with the overtime loss, although coach Peter Horachek wasn’t happy afterward.
The Panthers didn’t do much of anything for the first two periods, save for have Thomas in net. In the third, the two goalies traded saves. Although Florida defensemen Dmitry Kulikov and Erik Gudbranson made some sacrificial blocks to help out Thomas, Horachek was steamed that the Devils forged into the Florida zone with such ease.
“We didn’t deserve anything; we got a point we didn’t deserve,” Horachek said. “They outplayed us much of the game. We had scoring chances but were terrible in our own zone. We gave up a lot of chances. A lot of guys weren’t playing, didn’t compete. We scratched a point out of it. Tim Thomas played well, kept us in it.”
Florida went 1-1-1 on this three-game road trip, with lost opportunity at the start and finish. Although the Panthers didn’t play very well in New Jersey, had they held off the Devils in the final seconds of overtime, that second point in the standings might have been theirs.
While the Panthers have been pretty good in the shootout by winning 6 of 11, the Devils have been dreadful and are winless in six.
That was all moot when Travis Zajac won the final faceoff and the puck got to Zidlicky. Nick Bjugstad said the shot went off his stick and changed its trajectory as it headed toward Thomas.
“That’s about as bad as it could end,” said Bjugstad, who tied the score at 1 in the second by driving in on Schnieder and powering a Tomas Fleischmann feed through.
“That puck had eyes.”
The Panthers had a few early chances against Schneider, including a Tomas Kopecky short-handed chance in the second. That was one of just two Florida shots on goal in the opening 11 minutes of the period, with Bjugstad scoring the equalizer just before the 12-minute mark.
Sean Bergenheim and Fleischmann had chances to end it in the final seconds of regulation, and Aleksander Barkov had a prime scoring opportunity early in OT.
“We were hoping to get to the shootout at the end of it,” Horachek said. “Odds are pretty good; we’ve had some success. But we didn’t deserve it. I’m disappointed with the effort.”
Payroll to rise?
General manager Dale Tallon said Saturday night that owner Vinnie Viola has given him “the green light” to spend upward toward the salary cap ceiling next season.
The Panthers, while in the midst of being sold from Cliff Viner to Viola, weren’t a free agent player last summer. Tallon said that will change.
Florida, which is asking Broward County to rework its arena lease to free up $63 million in bond payments, is spending about $50 million in salary this season, which is near the bottom of the league. The salary cap is expected to be north of $70 million next season.
One of the promises team president Michael Yormark has made to the Broward commission is that the Panthers will have a payroll “at a level competitive with the rest of the National Hockey League.”
Tallon said they will do more than that in hopes of turning their on-ice fortunes around.• Kulikov broke his capped front teeth after taking a stick to the face Thursday in Buffalo. Kulikov, at least temporarily, has two jagged nubs where his teeth used to be.
“I spit them into my glove,” Kulikov said. “Not fun.”