Hockey

Oilers star roams free as Panthers fall in shootout for fourth consecutive loss

The Florida Panthers could look back at the video of Thursday night’s game in Edmonton and be a happy about a lot of things.

They held the Oilers to just 18 shots through three periods of regulation hockey. Frank Vatrano scored the opener; so, for the first time in eight games, the Panthers didn’t surrender the first goal of the game.

The Panthers were down two men for nearly a minute in the second period and held the Oilers without a shot.

Yet, they lost the game 4-3 in a shootout, with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Connor McDavid both beating Panthers goalie James Reimer in the breakaway competition for the Panthers’ fourth loss in a row.

Why? Because, at two critical junctures, McDavid, winner of the past two NHL scoring titles, was left open. Leaving McDavid that open is like deciding not to guard LeBron James, or deciding, “nah, we don’t need to put any pressure on Tom Brady.”

McDavid’s first goal tied the score 2-2 with just 22 seconds left in the second period. A point shot hit a couple of bodies in front and the puck caromed to McDavid, who scored the goal.

“It just ping pongs off of bodies and suddenly it’s in the net,” Reimer said. “That’s what happens. That’s why coaches tell you to shoot pucks and go to the net.”

After Henrik Borgstrom’s third-period centering pass hit Oilers defensemen Caleb Jones and Adam Larsson and bounded into the net, the Panthers held a 3-2 lead heading home. But, there was McDavid, alone in front of the net, to bang home the tying goal with just eight seconds left.

Panthers defensemen Aaron Ekblad and Mike Matheson weren’t near the scene of the crime.

“[McDavid] was their game tonight, he was all their offense again,” Panthers coach Bob Boughner said. “It seems like he does it to every team every night. That’s what great players do. You don’t notice them and then they end up with three or four points every night.”

The Panthers got a loser point for dropping the 4-3 decision in the shootout, but the gap between Florida and eighth spot in the Eastern Conference — which represents the final playoff spot — is at 10 points. At some point, this team has to turn good efforts into two-point nights.

“I feel bad for the guys, because I thought they worked hard, I thought they responded,” Boughner said. “We got contributions throughout the lineup, but we didn’t find a way to win. We talked about that yesterday, finding ways to win games.”

On Thursday, they lost to a team that had lost five straight at home. On Friday, they head three hours down the highway to face the Calgary Flames, owners of the best record in the Western Conference.

Denis Malgin, who put the Panthers up 2-1 with a wrist shot from the slot, said he and his teammates will need to have short memories when they play the Flames on Friday.

“We had a good game, we had the lead and with eight seconds left we get scored on. It’s hard think we have to forget this game and focus on tomorrow. We scored first and that was huge for us. We talked about having a good start and we’ve done it. But in the end, we lost again. We have to find a way to win.”

Not hitting the self-destruct button would be a start.

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