Willie Mitchell blamed Florida’s lethargic play and 2-1 loss to the last-place Blue Jackets on Monday night on the Panthers’ apparent lack of respect for their opponent.
Yes, the Panthers — a franchise that has been to the playoffs once since 2000 — were looking down on someone else.
It was a costly mistake.
“Where we’re coming from, we have to play every game the same,” said Gerard Gallant, making his first appearance at Nationwide Arena as a head coach since Columbus fired him in 2006.
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“A team like us, we can’t take anyone for granted. We’re a long way from that.”
Florida definitely looked like it had been reading up on Columbus’ miserable season and was looking ahead to Tuesday night’s date with the Red Wings in Detroit.
Instead of taking care of business against a team that had lost six in a row and 15 of 17, Florida didn’t create much of anything and let the Blue Jackets — who didn’t exactly play a game worthy of remembrance — stick around and eventually get the win.
Columbus looked just as sluggish as the Panthers did, not getting a shot on goal for the first 12 minutes of the game. The Jackets took a 1-0 lead on their second shot with 4:53 left.
It was that kind of night for the Panthers.
“That team over there hasn’t had things go their way this year, and they played with more desperation than we did,” Mitchell said.
“I don’t know. We had an emotional game the last time out, beat a team we needed to in order to get to our goal of the playoffs. Then we turn around and didn’t play with enough passion, enough fire.”
The Jackets, who had lost eight of nine at home and are well on their way to the draft lottery, took the initial lead when Matt Calvert scored in the first.
Florida tied the game early in the second when Aaron Ekblad teed off on a pass from Brad Boyes on a power-play chance.
The teams traded a few chances here and there until Columbus retook the lead on Boone Jenner’s goal midway through the third.
The Jackets’ secret weapon Monday — aside from Florida’s apathy — was goalie Sergei Bobrovsky. He improved to 7-1 against the Panthers with the victory.
Columbus has won nine in a row against Florida, including all three meetings last season. The Panthers haven’t beaten the Blue Jackets since 2007.
“The guys battled last time, and this was a completely different game,” said Panthers goalie Al Montoya, who stopped 21 of 23 shots in the hard-luck loss.
“We expected better of ourselves. It’s 1-1 going into the third, and these are the games we need to have. We need to learn from it now. This was a learning lesson.”
▪ Center Dave Bolland said Monday afternoon that he is real close to returning to the lineup after missing the past six weeks.
Bolland pulled a groin muscle in the closing minutes of Florida’s win at Buffalo on Oct.17 and hasn’t played since. Bolland was apparently on the road to recovery last month but had a setback and is making sure he’s as close to 100 percent as he can be.
“Things are better with the groin and are progressing,” said Bolland, who signed a five-year deal with the Panthers on July 1.
“Trust me, it’s been more of a strain on my mind than my groin. Coming off last year with my ankle, then missing all this time isn’t fun.”
▪ Goalie Roberto Luongo is expected to start Tuesday’s game in Detroit after sitting out the past two games after getting injured in last week’s 1-0 victory over Carolina. Luongo had a long workout Monday and said afterward he was good to go. Florida returned Dan Ellis, who backed up Montoya for one game, to the minors on Sunday.
▪ Shawn Thornton (groin) missed Monday’s game and is questionable for Tuesday. He hasn’t skated since Friday.
Tuesday: Panthers at Red Wings
When/where: 7:30 p.m.; Joe Louis Arena, Detroit.
TV/radio: FSFL; WQAM 560.
The series: Detroit leads 16-7-3.
Noteworthy: Former Panthers center Stephen Weiss is back from sports hernia surgery and has three goals and two assists in five games this season. He had zero points in two losses to the Panthers last December — the final games he played during the 2013-14 season.