Don’t expect the Panthers to book a trip to the Poconos anytime soon. They’ve had about all they can take of Pennsylvania, losing three in a row to teams from the Keystone State within the past week.
The latest setback came Friday when the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins made a two-goal deficit disappear in a blink, coming up with three second-period goals en route to a 4-3 win.
Conor Sheary caused the Panthers a lot of damage.
Sheary not only scored the go-ahead power-play goal late in the third that put the Penguins on top for good, but took out goalie Roberto Luongo earlier in the period when he nearly ripped the right hand off Luongo while flashing past the net.
Luongo was in obvious pain and came out for James Reimer.
Panthers coach Bob Boughner said following the game that Luongo was still being evaluated. Boughner didn’t specify the type of injury suffered by Luongo nor indicate whether X-rays were taken.
“We’ll know probably (Saturday) morning,” Boughner said. “We’re still trying to figure this out right now. It’s unfortunate obviously.”
It’s been that kind of week for the Panthers, who sandwiched a bad loss to the Flyers between their two to Pittsburgh. But it was the Panthers’ penalty killing that was most to blame for Friday’s loss. They gave up three power play goals.
“I think their power play and our lack of killing was the difference,” Boughner said. “We know they have one of the best power plays. Our penalty killing is struggling right now. And it just seems like everything that’s coming at us is finding its way to the back of the net.”
It looked promising for the Panthers in the very beginning. But after the Panthers took a 2-0 lead into the first intermission, the Penguins struck back in the second period, with goals by Evgeni Malkin and Carter Rowney coming less than 30 seconds apart.
Then came a Sidney Crosby score, who directed a Malkin pass in front of the net and put it past Luongo. The Malkin and Crosby goals came on power plays.
“Anytime you lose a 2-0 lead, it’s tough to swallow,” Panthers defenseman Keith Yandle said. “They’ve got high-end skill (on the power play) and I think at the end of the game when you’re trying to kill, it makes it a little tougher.”
But the Panthers tied it midway through the third when defenseman MacKenzie Weegar slapped one past Penguins goalie Matthew Murray for his first NHL goal.
Weegar was playing in only his fourth game ever and first this season.
“I think this is the only time you’ll see me smile after a loss,” Weegar said. “But I’m happy to get my first goal.”
Smiles were hard to find elsewhere in the Panthers’ dressing room, though, and even Weegar acknowledged the need for improvement on killing penalties.
“They’ve got a tremendous power play over there,” he said. “They move the puck well. If we can figure out a few things, we’ll be all right.”
Said Boughner: “It went sideways when we started taking penalties. And it came down to a penalty (Radim Vrbata for tripping) with three minutes to go.”