After wrapping up the Atlantic Division on Tuesday, the Panthers didn’t have a whole lot to play for on Thursday.
Until the third period, it sure looked that way.
Ottawa, playing its final home game in a disappointing season, got another strong performance against the Panthers from former Florida goalie Craig Anderson in a 3-1 win at a spirited Canadian Tire Center.
The Panthers went 2-1 on this road trip through eastern Canada and return home for Saturday’s regular-season finale with just their second division title in hand.
“We took the imporant games we had to win,” coach Gerard Gallant said. “We have home ice for two rounds and the Atlantic Division is pretty good. I didn’t expect the guys to be emotionally ready but they played OK.”
Anderson, who still lives a few miles from Florida’s training facility in Coral Springs, stopped 33 shots — including 18 in a wild third period — as he beat the Panthers for the second time this season.
The Panthers trailed 2-0 going into the third before Jaromir Jagr got his 27th of the season.
Florida, which saw its four-game winning streak stopped, outshot the Sens 19-5 in the final 20 minutes.
“I’m just glad we were able to seal the deal and get the win and at least send our fans away with something to cheer about,” Anderson said. “You expected [the third] because they’re a first-place team and have really good players over there. They’ve won a lot of games when down a couple of goals. They’ve found another gear.”
Although there were a few meaningful games being played around the league as teams jockey for playoff position, the Panthers’ big battles — at least during the regular season — have been completed.
It’s hard to conjure up fake desperation, and until the final period Thursday, the Panthers just looked bored.
The Panthers didn’t do much hitting, didn’t go down and block many shots — and were probably wise in doing so.
Florida is expected to open the playoffs next Thursday or Friday night against either the New York Rangers or Islanders, so getting another player injured in one of its final two games isn’t going to help when the real season kicks off next week.
“I thought Ottawa played a good solid game and, although we got back into it, we weren’t good enough,” Gallant said. “The guys clinched the division the other night and although you try to tell your players to work hard — and I thought for the most part they did — there was nothing there to push them over the edge.”
The Senators scored what appeared to be their first of the night rather quickly with Mika Zibanejad beating Al Montoya 1:41 in.
Florida challenged and once again prevailed with video showing the Senators were offside.
Ottawa and Zibanejad got the goal back with 1:40 left in the period as Zibanejad charged in and cleaned up a rebound from a Chris Wideman shot.
In the second period, rookie Buddy Robinson redirected a shot past Montoya for his first NHL goal in his second game.
Jagr spoiled Anderson’s shutout by scoring off a nice look from Sasha Barkov just under five minutes in.
Ottawa’s Cody Ceci helped end Florida’s rally by scoring with 5:46 remaining.