When your opponent brings more talent, as Colorado did to the Panthers Friday night at BB&T Center, you better counter with more giddyup and bury what scoring chances you get.
The Panthers did neither for two periods and what water-into-wine goalie Tim Thomas had in him couldn’t prevent a 3-2 loss to Colorado.
“We just weren’t ready to go and they were,” Panthers captain Ed Jovanovski said. “Once we had our burr up our behinds, we started moving our legs and we got a lot of opportunities. But anytime you’re down 3-0, it’s tough to come back, especially against a good team like that.”
That the Panthers roared back in the third period, outshooting the Avalanche 20-6, and getting two grinders goals from Scottie Upshall. Upshall jammed home goal No. 100 of his NHL career at the left post off a desperate, 1-handed pass from Tomas Fleischmann behind the net. The second goal, with 1:43 remaining, began life as a Tom Gilbert slapshot and ticked off Upshall’s foot as he screened Colorado goalie Semyon Varlamov.
“We finally got our legs under us. We were playing desperately. We were kind of carrying the momentum. We sat back in the first couple of periods and watched their guys carry the play,” Upshall said. “Their firepower can take over a game and that’s what happened the first couple of periods.”
Panthers coach Peter Horachek said, “When I’m up 3-0, I’d like to play the way we did in the third period.”
Scott Gomez replaced injured rookie center Alexander Barkov on the Panthers hottest line and had four shots on goal as well as went 10 of 13 on face-offs. The Panthers continued their power play futility, a record 38 consecutive fruitless man advantages.
But all that could’ve been overcome by a more active first 40 minutes.
“Before the game, I told them I wanted them all pushing in the same direction at the same time,” Horachek said. “There were a lot of guys who eased into the game.”
Certainly, the Panthers came out heavily into energy conservation. That’s an explanation for the way they stood around, watching Colorado’s Matt Duchene zig zag behind the net while Ryan O’Reilly hid in plain sight at the right post. Duchene missed a backhander, O’Reilly put the rebound off the side of the goal then chased down his own rebound and fired it home.
That shift, the game’s second, established the rhythm of the first period. A Brian Campbell turnover up the boards went from Alex Tanguay to Gabriel Landeskog to Paul Statsny alone in front of Thomas. Statsny reached a backhander around Thomas for a 2-0 lead after the first period.
And, yet, for it all, the Panthers had some wonderful chances. In the first period, after Jonathan Huberdeau made a speedy slither through the Colorado defense, drawing a penalty, Marcel Goc had the rebound at the left post and an open net beckoning from two feet. Goc managed the difficult, firing wide of the right post.
Near the middle of an evenly played second period, Gilbert couldn’t pull the trigger fast enough on a cross zone pass and Varlamov got over for the save.
At 13:03, Gudbranson achieved a negative quinela, getting pickpocketed for the puck after Goc’s face-off win, then blowing the coverage on Jamie McGinn in front. McGinn rapped home O’Reilly’s feed: 3-0, Colorado.
“They put a forecheck on us and basically did what we would’ve liked to have done to them,” Thomas said.