Dan Ellis admits he didn’t finish last season with the Panthers the way he or anyone else around the team liked.
This is a different season, and, perhaps, a different goalie.
Ellis won his first game with the Panthers since coming over in a trade last March as Florida topped the Islanders 4-3 in a shootout at BB&T Center.
The Panthers had won two in a row and kept pace with Boston in the playoff race. Earlier in the day, the Bruins rallied to tie Philadelphia in the final seconds before winning in overtime.
Since losing both Roberto Luongo and Al Montoya to injury last week, Ellis helped Florida pick up three of the available four points.
“I’ve stepped into a great situation where I’ve been able to play,” said Ellis, who was winless in six starts with the Panthers before stopping 25 shots and all three offerings faced in the shootout.
“I just want to contribute any way I can right now.”
Said coach Gerard Gallant: “Dan Ellis was great. He’s an NHL goalie and gave us a real good game. It was a big win, a big two points for us. The goal is to stay on pace, stay in the race. We played good from the drop of the puck.”
Florida held the lead for big chunks of the night as Erik Gudbranson, Nick Bjugstad and Jonathan Huberdeau all scored.
The Islanders answered each time, tying the score at 3 with 7:12 left on a Josh Bailey goal from 30 feet out.
In overtime, Florida — which took just 17 shots on former Sabres goalie Michal Neuvirth (who lost to the Panthers the previous Saturday) in the first 60 minutes — went on the attack and had the Islanders worn out in their zone when the horn sounded.
Huberdeau, who has two goals and three assists in the past four games, was the offensive hero as his slick spin-o-rama goal gave the Panthers a 3-2 lead.
In the shootout, Huberdeau charged in on Neuvirth and just about came to a complete stop before pushing the puck through.
Huberdeau was the only player to score as Florida improved to 7-10 and the Islanders dropped to 7-3 in shootouts. Ellis has stopped five of six shots in two shootouts since returning to the Panthers.
“The shootout was huge,” Gallant said. “Huberdeau has played great lately and I really wanted to throw him back out there. I know this has been great for his confidence. Great goals by him, a real confidence builder.”
For the second consecutive game, Ellis was done in on a shot through traffic that was redirected off one of his teammates.
On Thursday, two of the three goals scored went off a player in front.
On Saturday, a long slapshot from Nick Leddy clipped Scottie Upshall’s stick before finding its way to the back of the net to tie the score at 2.
Ellis didn’t let that affect him too much, however, as he stood strong and stopped John Tavares in the shootout after getting beat by the Isles’ top scorer on a breakaway in the second.
“We would have liked to win in regulation so we have to stop giving away leads,” Brian Campbell said. “But this has been a tough week.”
The Panthers were still missing a few pieces as the flu works its way through the team as Tomas Kopecky and Aaron Ekblad sat out.
Saturday’s game was the first one missed by Ekblad, 19, this season.
With Ekblad sitting out, only Derek MacKenzie, Brian Campbell and Bjugstad have played in all 66 games for Florida.
Campbell has not missed a game since coming to the Panthers in a draft-day trade in 2011.
▪ Captain Willie Mitchell was activated off the IR before the game after missing the past 16 games. Because Mitchell is still fighting the flu, Jonathan Racine was recalled from the minors as a precaution.
Racine landed in South Florida but was told he wouldn't play and watched the game from the press box instead.
▪ The Panthers’ online promotion awarding someone the chance to be a goalie in a practice has received more than 1,200 applications since it began Thursday.
A select number of applicants (have to be 18 and over and have goaltending experience) will compete for two final spots March 16.
For more information, visit floridapanthers.com.