The Florida Panthers kicked off perhaps their toughest and most important stretch of games this season with Thursday’s loss in Minnesota.
After Friday’s 2-0 loss to the host Stars, this run of playing seven of eight away from home only looks more daunting.
For the second straight night, the Panthers failed to create much offense against a team – like themselves – on the periphery of the playoff race.
Thursday, Minnesota pulled to within two points of a postseason spot with its 2-1 win over the Panthers. Dallas got to within three after Friday. Florida, by getting none of the available four points, stayed flat.
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“Hats off to these guys, we came out after a back-to-back and put pucks on net,” said Florida goalie Al Montoya, who didn’t celebrate his 30th birthday the way he wanted as Kari Lehtonen got the shutout with 37 saves.
“The guy at the other end was seeing everything. He was on tonight and saw everything.”
Like Thursday, there wasn’t a whole lot to get excited about as Dallas’ defensive style stymied the Panthers.
After taking a two-goal lead in the first, the Stars clamped down.
Once Dallas’ Jason Spezza made it 2-0 on a fabulous goal in which he picked up the puck in the slot, spun around and flung a wrister past Montoya (26 saves), the entertainment level hit the skids.
The biggest highlight after Spezza’s SportsCenter-worthy goal came when Florida’s Alex Petrovic almost crushed broadcaster Billy Lindsay when he went flying over the boards.
In the second, Petrovic went to check Dallas pest Vernon Fiddler just past the Florida bench. Only Fiddler slammed on the brakes, Petrovic’s momentum swinging him over the boards and into Lindsay, who was working in the area between the two benches for Fox Florida.
Fiddler then helped Petrovic all the way over leading the Dallas in-house crew to set the numerous replays to R. Kelly’s I Believe I Can Fly.
“I guess they don’t have boards like that in the AHL,” Petrovic said with a smile. “I thought I could get him, then he pulled a fast one on me. That’s OK though.”
Petrovic’s disappearing act was not only humorous – cameras showed him smiling afterward – but one of the only memorable things the Panthers did in Dallas.
Dmitry Kulikov was thrown out of the game with 6:55 left after his low hip check took Tyler Seguin out at the knees.
Kulikov was given five minutes for clipping and a game misconduct.
Seguin, whose 59 points are second in the league, was helped off the ice and didn’t return.
Dallas coach Lindy Ruff, a former Florida assistant back in the expansion days, said Kulikov’s hit was dirty and that Seguin is going to be out of the lineup for some time.
“It’s a dirty shot, something that takes your best player not only out of the game, but out of our lineup for a little bit,” Ruff said.
“Let the league deal with it. I used to yell and scream about things like this and it didn’t do any good. It’s just a shot that didn’t need to happen.”
Moments later, Dallas’ Patrick Eaves took a slapshot off the side of the head from John Klingberg.
Eaves hit the ice and didn’t move for a few minutes as medical personnel was brought out to check on him.
Eaves eventually was brought to his feet and helped to the locker room. Eaves was evaluated underneath the seating areas being taken to a local hospital.
“He’s had a previous injury there so we’re pretty concerned,” Ruff said.
It now appears the Panthers and pending free agent Sean Bergenheim will likely part ways sooner than later.
On Friday, Bergenheim was a healthy scratch for the fourth time in six games and he confirmed he has asked the team to be traded.
“I just want to play,” Bergenheim said from the Dallas press box. “And this could be good for the Panthers. Maybe they get something in return that helps them become a better team.”
Before the game, coach Gerard Gallant was asked if Bergenheim’s effort was the reason for the multiple benchings.
“If he gave me 100 percent, he would be playing,” Gallant said. “That’s fair. But there’s a few guys who didn’t give 100 percent last night. You just have to make a decision.”
Bergenheim said he requested a trade when he first became a healthy scratch on Long Island earlier this month.
He said Gallant never came to him with questions about his effort – and he disagreed with the coach’s assessment.
“All I’ve done is give everything I have every time I’m on the ice,” Bergenheim said.
“I’ve played as hard as I can for the Panthers. So to read something like that is upsetting. [Gallant] didn’t say anything; he told me I wasn’t playing but didn’t say why. I got comments from some assistant coaches who said they liked the way I played, said I ‘was flying.’
“I tried. What can you do? … I just want to play hockey, play somewhere where my style of play is valued and appreciated.”