Florida Panthers

Panthers’ comeback against Blackhawks goes for naught

Another Panthers game, another shootout, another injury to starting goalie Tim Thomas.

Another loss, too, this time 3-2 to defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago at the BB&T Center. The Panthers got the shootout loser point after fighting back from a 2-0 deficit in the third period.

But perhaps of greater concern is the injury to Thomas, who missed time with a groin injury last week. Another stellar performance got aborted with 2:59 left in the game.

Panthers coach Kevin Dineen said this wasn’t the groin acting up again, and that the Panthers would be making a call to San Antonio for Scott Clemmensen.

“Fortunately, for me, Kevin Pollock, the ref, was the one who acknowledged him down there,” Dineen said. “I could see he was uncomfortable.”

Jakob Markstrom came in for the rest of regulation, overtime and the shootout. In the shootout, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Sharp scored for Chicago while Jonathan Huberdeau and Brad Boyes got stopped by Chicago goalie Corey Crawford.

The game certainly entertained a crowd of 15,779, about 10,000 of which wore red jerseys of either the home side or, just as likely, Chicago.

As the third period began, things looked grimmer than Grimm for the Panthers. Bad enough to be down 2-0 to the Blackhawks, who don’t give up much defensively.

To be in such straits after playing quite well in the first and second periods could be positively depressing.

Indeed, the Panthers looked much more docile in the third until Kris Versteeg drove into the zone along the left boards and fed rookie Aleksander Barkov. Barkov whipped a pass back to Tomas Fleischmann for a one-timer that cut Chicago’s lead to 2-1 9:13 into the third.

The suddenly lively Panthers got a succession of rare events to tie the score just 2:38 later. After a Panthers rush fell apart, Chicago defenseman Duncan Keith from the left corner made a truly horrible breakout pass up the middle. Shot-shy Panthers defenseman Dimitri Kulikov jumped up, jumped on it and blasted a drive by Crawford to tie the score.

In the second period, with the more dramatic long line change, the Panthers continued to demonstrate they could combine good hustle and puck possession with frustratingly poor finishing ability.

Praise from Dineen

“We pushed hard,” Dineen said. “We had a little trouble finding our range. We were spraying them all over the place. We need to hit the net. But I like the way we pushed. When we got down a couple, we kept our composure.

“At the end, we end up with only one point. Sometimes, as a coach, you don’t always judge on the final outcome. There’s a tuckered out bunch in there that worked their tails off.”

The Panthers got leading scorer Boyes in alone with the puck on his backhand about 20 feet in front of the left post. But instead of a weak backhand or pulling the puck to his forehand, Boyes went for a drop pass that traveled all the way to the neutral zone. Chicago defenseman Sheldon Brookbank blocked a two-on-one feed from Fleischmann to Versteeg.

Another assault on the Chicago goal, after a neutral-zone theft by Huberdeau, resulted in Michal Handzus upending Huberdeau from behind.

That resulted in a penalty shot.

And that didn’t result in a goal when Crawford showed he had done his homework on Huberdeau.

Huberdeau halted

Huberdeau’s slow approach included a few blade fakes, a head fake then ended with a try at tucking the puck around Crawford’s right pad. Crawford coolly waited for this, the same move as in Saturday night’s shootout against Minnesota, and shoved that pad against the post.

“Before the forehand, I should’ve went backhand,” Huberdeau said. “It probably would’ve changed the game.

“It was only 1-0 when it happened.”

Before and after all that in the second, the Blackhawks provided two lessons in turning opportunity into red lights.

Lesson No. 1: once a cross zone pass is completed, get the puck going toward the net with alacrity.

With Kulikov serving an interference call, Chicago’s Patrick Kane curled in the right circle and fed Keith at the left point. With the defensive flow moving to his side, Keith quickly fed Toews, driving at the right post for the redirect into an open net.

Lesson No. 2: It’s not the accuracy, it’s the release.

Chicago’s Bryan Bickell hurtled into the Panthers zone on a seemingly harmless rush, cut left and fired a shot that caromed off Kulikov. The puck came right back to Bickell, who instantly fired over Thomas’ glove before the goalie could get set.

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