Tuesday’s return from the All-Star Game break featured the resurrection of the Panthers power play and points a-plenty by Panthers first-round draft picks.
Unfortunately for the Panthers, three of those points came from now-Detroit center Stephen Weiss in a four-goal second period blitz on which the Panthers’ 5-4 loss at BB&T Center turned.
The big-picture result of the Panthers fifth consecutive loss poured sludge on the shine of three power-play goals after going 1 for 23 the previous eight games. Two of those power-play goals accounted for two points each for rookie defenseman Aaron Ekblad (first round, 2014), center Nick Bjugstad (first round, 2010) and center Aleksander Barkov (first round, 2013). Barkov picked up an assist on Brad Boyes’ third-period goal that got the Panthers within one, 5-4.
An interference call on Detroit’s Drew Miller put the Panthers power play back on the ice with 2:32 left in the third. Panthers coach Gerard Gallant pulled goalie Al Montoya with 1:52 left to create a six-on-four advantage, yet time ran out with the Panthers holding a 41-27 shot advantage and regret.
“We can outshoot them and we can outplay them, but we can’t give up soft goals, easy goals like we did tonight,” Gallant said.
“Blame ourselves on miscues that gave them chances,” Boyes said.
The game’s definitive burst featured four Detroit goals in 10:47 of the second period, the last three by Weiss’ line in 4:12. Luke Glendening got the first and third goals in the three-goal flurry, both assisted by Weiss. Weiss got the middle goal, his first against the Panthers, who drafted him in the first round in 2001.
A strong forechecking shift by Barkov’s line ended with a delay-of-game penalty on Detroit’s Danny Dekeyser. Miller actually got the scoring going with a short-handed breakaway goal. That 1-0 lead didn’t survive Kyle Quincey’s slashing penalty. Ekblad to Bjugstad across to Barkov, tic-tac-toe-wrist tied the game on the 5-on-3, and Brandon Pirri overpowered goalie Petr Mrazek from the right circle.
That 2-1 lead lasted until Henrik Zetterberg got left alone in the slot after a turnover 32 seconds into the second: tie score 2-2. Then, Panthers defenseman Dylan Olsen, while standing behind the net, lost the puck as if the ice suddenly tilted away from him. Luongo stopped Weiss, but Glendening roofed the rebound.
On their next shift, Weiss got left alone at the left post by Olsen and knocked in a 4-2 Detroit lead. Next shift, Weiss’ pass went off Jussi Jokinen’s glove and Glendening wasted no time whipping it by Luongo.
That ended the night for Luongo, starting two days after playing in Sunday’s NHL All-Star Game in Columbus, Ohio. He and his family got home later than expected, around 10 p.m., after a missed connection, and he had to go to Hollywood/Fort Lauderdale Airport to get his equipment.
“There’s no excuses here. ... I just wasn’t sharp,’’ Luongo said.
Almost 20 years ago, the Panthers took drag-racer-fast forward Radek Dvorak with the 10th overall pick of the 1995 NHL Draft. Dvorak contributed timely goals as a rookie on the Panthers’ Eastern Conference final team, then developed the penalty-killing skills that made him a valuable forward during an NHL career that officially ended Tuesday with his retirement.
Dvorak spent nine seasons with the Panthers in two stretches. His 16 shorthanded goals as a Panther are the franchise record, and his 613 games are second.