On Tuesday night in Sunrise against Ottawa meant the Panthers’ scoring chances might match the fans at BB&T Center, the Senators being healthier for a team’s statistics than their attendance.
Sure enough, opportunities flowed well in both directions, mostly toward the Panthers until a three-goal Ottawa third period sent the home team down 4-2.
Ottawa and Detroit now sit five points ahead of the Panthers in the Atlantic Division and the Panthers remain one point out of a wildcard spot. Anybody who thinks it’s too early to look at standings doesn’t realize that every year, some team misses the playoffs because of points lost in divisional or conference games before the turn of the calendar.
Panthers goals by Logan Shaw and Reilly Smith had been matched by power-play goals from Ottawa’s Zack Smith and Kyle Turris when Panthers defenseman Dmitri Kulikov blocked a point shot with his stick blade in the third period. The carom went to Ottawa’s Mike Hoffman, who ripped in the game winner from just over the slot.
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On a late power play, the Panthers pulled goalie Roberto Luongo, but when the Panthers went horizontal on the zone entry, Smith got stripped by Mike Stone. Stone fed Jean-Gabriel Pageau and his empty-netter with 2:31 left sealed the game for Ottawa.
“I felt we were great the first two periods,” Panthers coach Gerard Gallant said. “I thought we were a really good hockey team. We created a lot, some two-on-ones, three-on-twos. I thought Anderson was the difference in the first two periods. I thought Louie made some great saves, too.
“In the third period, the penalties caught up to us.”
Ottawa occasionally kept the Panthers hemmed into the zone with a good forecheck that interrupted several breakouts high in the zone, almost in the way the trap used to in its original incarnation. But the Senators’ forecheck lacks the structure of a trap or really any system more organized than a kindergarten Lego party. Forward support was lacking.
“They’re a team that’ll trade chances with you,” Smith said. “They have firepower and they’re willing to take that risk. That’s not the game we wanted to play. It was unfortunate that’s how things turned out.”
That left the Panthers a plethora of openings for odd-man rushes, such as the Logan Shaw-Derek MacKenzie two-on-one launched by MacKenzie forcing an Ottawa turnover just inside the Panthers line. Shaw’s right-circle blast left Ottawa goalie and Coral Springs’ resident Craig Anderson frozen in place at 7:49 of the first.
Believers in karma can point to the way penalties committed out of laziness or at pointless places on the ice tend to wind up as power-play goals. Take Brandon Pirri’s penalty for slashing, committed just outside the Ottawa line with 39 seconds left in the first period. When the second started, Ottawa gained the zone and went tic-tac-toe, Kyle Turris down to Mark Stone to Zack Smith between the circles, to tie the score 1-1.
But at 13:58 of the second, the Panthers took advantage of some abysmal Senators blue-line play and backchecking. Or, rather, Reilly Smith did when sent in alone on Anderson by Vincent Trocheck. Smith gave a forehand blade fake, then zipped a backhander home.
Now, what you don’t want to do when protecting a 2-1 lead in the third period is have a forward take a hooking penalty near the opposing blue line. Which is what Aleksander Barkov did 26 seconds into the third. And, of course, Turris buried a huge rebound to tie the score at 2.