Five takeaways from the Panthers’ 3-2 overtime loss against the Ottawa Senators on Thursday night that leaves Florida three points behind the New Jersey Devils, with a game in hand, in the fight for the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
▪ 1. A controversial end: The Panthers, playing the second game of a back-to-back situation, let the Senators hang around for most of the night after the Panthers owned a 2-1 lead through two periods. They wound up in overtime after the Senators tied the game 16 seconds into the third period on some loose play and lost on a penalty shot goal by Senators forward Jean-Gabriel Pageau with 12.9 seconds left in the extra period.
Pageau was awarded the penalty shot after Florida defenseman Mike Matheson dove at him as Pageau was cutting to the net off the right wing and Pageau fell to the ice. Pageau scored on a shot between the pads of Florida goaltender James Reimer.
“I watched it a few times. It’s an iffy, iffy call,” Panthers coach Bob Bougher said. “It could have gone either way. I just think this time of year, the fight we’re in, it would have been nice to see it be called just a penalty with 13 seconds to go in the game. It’s a major decision that ended up costing us a point. Hopefully it’s not a costly point at the end of the day.”
Despite salvaging the point, Boughner lamented the Panthers inability to gain ground on the Devils with six games left in the Panthers’ season.
“Any other time of the year, you probably play a back-to-back game and you get a point out of the building on a back-to-back, you’d be happy with it,” Boughner said. “Two points are what matter the most for us in the race that we are in. We saw what was happening on the scoreboard on the Jumbotron. It was a chance for us to gain a point on a team we’re chasing and we didn’t get it done.
“We had chances in overtime, three or four chances and that’s how overtime goes. Both teams get chances and it’s whoever buries the first one. Disappointed, but we’re still in this things and still a lot of hockey to be played by both teams.”
The Panthers finish off their four-game road trip (1-1-1 so far) Saturday in Boston against the Bruins.
▪ 2. Defenseman Mike Matheson: “I feel like I let my teammates down.”
Matheson had a rough night. He couldn’t corral a puck below the Panthers goal line seconds into the third period which led to a goal by Ottawa forward Magnus Paajarvi on a deflection at the 16-second mark.
Then there was the penalty shot call which came after Matheson and his teammates had some great chances to end it earlier in OT.
“It’s tough to say. I haven’t see the replay of it,” he said. “Yeah, a tough game for myself and I kind of feel like I let my teammates down in that sense. It’s tough, especially this time of year.”
Matheson said the Panthers didn’t do a good enough job of converting the scoring opportunities they created.
“We had a lot of chances. We had a lot of chances throughout the game that didn’t go in,” he said. “Sometimes that’s the way it goes. At the end of the day, I think we played a good game and weren’t able to capitalize on the chances.”
▪ 3. Henrik Borgstrom skates solo in his NHL debut: Panthers forward Henrik Borgstrom got the rookie treatment as he made his NHL debut as his new teammates sent him out onto the ice at Canadian Tire Centre for three solo laps of the rink for the warmup.
The 20-year-old, wearing No. 95, played 12:41, had six shot attempts (two shots on goal) and was 3-3 in the faceoff circle. Borgstrom, the No. 23 pick in the 2016 NHL Draft, signed a three-year entry level deal Monday after leaving the University of Denver after his sophomore season.
“It was an awesome, awesome experience, for sure,” Borgstrom said. “I was pretty nervous before the game. After the first shift, I wasn’t that nervous anymore. We didn’t get the win which is pretty heartbreaking.”
Borgstrom, a native of Helsinki, Finland, was named a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award, given annually to the top player in NCAA hockey, on Thursday. The other finalists are Ryan Donato of Harvard University and Adam Gaudette of Northeastern University.
The winner will be announced April 6 during the NCAA’s Frozen Four in St. Paul, Minnesota.
▪ 4. A rare loss for Reimer against the Senators: Reimer, who made 27 saves, is now 13-5-3 in his career against the Senators, by far the best record he has against one team.
He didn’t want to get into the merits of the penalty shot call against Matheson.
“Obviously you’re biased and you wish it wasn’t a penalty shot,” he said. “It’s the ref’s discretion and I’m not going to argue with the calls they make. They have a tough job.”
Reimer said he had an idea of what Pageau was going to do.
“I just know that he is kind of a deceptive shooter,” he said. “I had an idea of what he wanted to do. Unfortunately, he executed and I didn’t. That’s the way sports goes. Kudos to him. He made a good shot and I’ll get him next time.”
Reimer said the Panthers will find a way to grab whatever momentum they can out of grabbing a point.
“This time of year you want the two points,” he said. “The two points are big, but any points are good. I’m disappointed we lost that one in OT. Positives are we got a point and we’re going to keep rolling and keep winning games and see where it stands come the end of the year.
“We’ve got to make these next couple of games count and we know what’s on the line and we understand what we have to do and we’ll do what it takes.”
▪ 5. Defenseman Aaron Ekblad moves up the list: Ekblad’s 16th goal of the season, on the power-play goal at 5:19 of the second period to tie the game 1-1, tied the franchise record for goals by a defenseman set by Jason Garrison in the 2011-12 season.
Ekblad cut in on the left wing and cut across the slot, doing a good job of keeping control of the puck as he fended off a Senators check and got his stick in position to let go a shot that went in on the stick side of Ottawa goaltender and former Panther Craig Anderson.