Willie Mitchell put the Florida Panthers’ recent streak of success into perspective prior to Wednesday night’s game against the Calgary Flames.
And, boiled down, when you win — 12 games in a row, for example, like the Panthers did prior to Monday’s 3-2 overtime loss at Vancouver — opposing teams want to curb that feeling.
“I think, for the growth of our hockey club, it’s really, really important that now you’re going into buildings and teams in the league know you’re hot,” the Panthers captain was saying at the Scotiabank Saddledome following the morning skate. “They’re bringing their ‘A’ game, you’ll see some rough stuff, everyone’s finishing their hits. I think, for us, it’s definitely needed for our hockey club to get to where we want to be — which is the playoffs.”
But, most likely, Mitchell did not have a 6-0 loss in mind when he talked about his team facing adversity.
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Instead, the Panthers dropped their second straight game, which was the team’s fifth stop on a six-game stretch away from the BB&T Center.
It was the first game in 13 that they failed to nab a point.
“It’s embarrassing,” forward Jonathan Huberdeau said. “Coming up here after a pretty good streak and being beat 6-0? It’s not what we were hoping for. We didn’t have a good start at all, we weren’t ready, and they took advantage of us … we were getting dominated in our own zone.”
Thanks to their franchise-record-setting spree, the Panthers are still six points ahead of the Detroit Red Wings in the Atlantic Division and are second in the Eastern Conference at 26-13-5.
No one, however, was in the mood to talk about those happy statistics following the team’s first regulation loss since a 3-1 decision against the Boston Bruins on Dec. 12.
“You can say what you want about it [12-game winning streak],” defenseman Erik Gudbranson said. “I think potentially there was a little bit of arrogance to our game towards the end of that streak.
“At the end of the day, the only thing I can say is we got our butts handed to us tonight. It was well deserved. We earned every minute of it.”
It became very clear early on that the Panthers were ready for their road swing to be over.
Within the first 20 minutes, in fact, as they allowed four goals on 13 shots and were outshot 15-5. Flames rookie Sam Bennett scored a hat trick, and Johnny Gaudreau scored his 19th goal of the year, which ended goalie Roberto Luongo’s night.
“We left him alone in net,” Huberdeau said. “Fortunately, Monny [Al Montoya] came in for us. But we can’t let our goalies alone like that. We have to play better. We know we’re a good team. We just have to show it.”
Montoya relieved Luongo in the second period, which went better than the first but not by much.
Montoya, who made 25 saves in Sunday’s 2-1 win over the Oilers, misplayed a puck behind the net that led to Mason Raymond’s tip-in goal at the 6:40 mark of the second — Calgary’s fifth goal of the night.
At the end of 40 minutes, the Flames were outshooting the Panthers 25-9 and 36-15 in the end.
Early in the third period, the Panthers had some life while Raymond was caught for hooking on Brandon Pirri to put Florida on its second power play of the evening. Still, nothing.
With 24.7 seconds remaining, Bennett scored his fourth goal of the night, becoming the first player to score four goals for the Flames since Jarome Iginla in 2003 — a total defensive breakdown between Alex Petrovic (who was a team-worst minus-four on the evening) and Steven Kampfer.
Not that it made a difference.
“Every game you want to play well,” said Huberdeau, who led the team with five shots on net. “Vancouver wasn’t that bad but tonight — it was embarrassing. The game, our identity, it’s not how we want to play. We have to forget about it and move onto the next game.”