The Panthers piled up 42 shots and more than enough offensive chances to get a needed playoff race win against fading Dallas Saturday night. And they had just enough failures at both ends to lose, 2-1, on John Klingberg’s goal with 1:07 left in the third.
That’s five losses in the last six home games for the Panthers, who needed a shootout to get that one win against wounded, woeful Carolina. A 14-10-8 road record, boosted by the 5-for-5 February Western Conference road trip, has kept the Panthers in the playoff race. A 15-14-3 home record keeps them outside a playoff position with 20 games remaining.
If this sounds familiar, you’re a long-suffering Panthers fan. In 2002-03, before the shootout days, the Panthers went 16-15-6 with four overtime losses on the road. They missed the playoffs because they won only eight home games, two above the NHL-record low for a minimum 70-game schedule and one above four of the worst overall teams in NHL history: 1962-63 Boston, 1974-75 Washington, 1980-81 Winnipeg and 1983-84 Pittsburgh.
Now here came Dallas, trade deadline sellers, eight points out of a Western Conference playoff spot and the NHL’s No.30 (out of 30) penalty kill overall and on the road. The Panthers got their lone goal on the power play, but didn’t finish any
Hopefully, Panthers general manager and interim coach Tom Rowe stretched before he met the media after the game. Otherwise, the 60-year-old might’ve strained something throwing right wing Reilly Smith under the bus.
On Klingberg’s goal, Smith took off as a clear sailed for the Panthers blue line. Dallas’ Jamie Benn kept the puck in at the left point. Benn had time and space to start the sequence that ended with Klingberg’s left circle shot off the extended leg of Panthers left wing Jussi Jokinen.
“All I know is Reilly Smith was blowing the zone, doing exactly what he wasn’t supposed to be doing,” Rowe snapped.
The same line -- Jokinen-Vincent Trocheck-Smith -- and same defense pair of Alex Petrovic and Mark Pysyk were on the ice for the first Dallas goal, a Benn tap-in. Jason Spezza pulled up just inside the Panthers line along the left boards and threaded a pass through a few skates to Tyler Seguin in the right circle. With goalie James Reimer reacting hard to the right post, Seguin fed back across to a ridiculously open Benn for the tap-in.
“We went over that exact play at the team meeting,” Rowe said. “We haven’t learned our lesson yet, that’s the problem.”
Don’t blame Thomas Vanek, acquired by the Panthers at the trade deadline, for the loss In his first game at BB&T Center, Vanek gift wrapped two golden chances for the tiebreaking goal to pal Nick Bjugstad. Bjugstad missed a living room-sized open net in the second period on a two-on-one and put a mini-breakaway over the net in the third.
Vanek almost untied the game himself in the third but his third shot in a flurry around the net hit Dallas defenseman Jamie Oleksiak lounging along the goal line.
“Our line, we had quite a few chances. I had quite a few chances so it’s definitely disappointing knowing I could’ve helped. It’s tough losing those games,” Bjugstad said. “We needed those points. Sometimes, it doesn’t go in, but this is what us forwards are paid to do. So, I’ve got to find a way to score. I had two point blank chances.”
The Panthers only goal came after Dallas Stephen Johns went to the box for tripping Jonathan Marchessault, it gave the Panthers’ power play its third chance of the first period. Or, rather, required the Dallas penalty kill to retake the ice.
After the Stars failed to get control of a loose puck near the blue line, the Panthers’ French Jonathan Connection tied the game -- Jonathan Marchessault made a left boards-to-right circle pass to Jonathan Huberdeau and Huberdeau whistled in a wrister.
The second period featured no scoring after Dallas rang up a post and Bjugstad missed his open net. Panthers center Colton Sceviour skated himself into a shorthanded breakaway, then inexplicably tried to feed Derek MacKenzie, a bad decision and worse pass. Sceviour’s next five-on-five shift found him in a two-on-one with Shawn Thornton. Sceviour slid toward the middle, then missed the net.