The Florida Panthers spoiled the coaching debut of new Carolina Hurricanes head coach Kirk Muller. The Panthers were seeking to respond with a solid effort after getting blown out by the Tampa Bay Lightning in their last game. The Panthers were able to, with a strong road effort and great goaltending from Jose Theodore.
The Panthers came out strong to open the game, playing with a lot of energy and cycling the puck well in the Hurricane’s zone. However, it was only a matter of time before Carolina would respond, something the Panthers expected due to the coaching change after Paul Maurice was fired on Monday. The Hurricanes controlled the rest of the period taking nine shots, which were all stopped by Jose Theodore, including a great chance from the slot by Jeff Skinner.
Mike Santorelli took an early holding penalty, but the Panthers were able to kill it off using an aggressive style that they would continue to use all night. Late in the period, Kris Versteeg took a high hit (which on the replay looked like an elbow to the head) and was cut above the nose. Versteeg was clearly unhappy and could be seen barking at the officials from the bench. The Panthers would only manage two shots in the first period.
At the beginning of the second, Tim Kennedy turned the puck over, but Theodore was there to bail him out with a great save off Bryan Allen. The Panthers began to pick up their energy again after killing off a Fleischmann hooking penalty. Fleischmann redeemed himself by blasting a slapshot past Cam Ward from the top of the circle on the Panthers first power play of the night. Brian Campbell and Stephen Weiss got the assists.
About a minute later, the Hurricanes responded as super sophomore Jeff Skinner put in a rebound off his own shot to tie the game at one. The Panthers failed to put a body on Skinner even though there were three Panthers in the area. Eric Staal and Tuomo Ruutu picked up the assists The Panthers had other quality chances to score in the period, as Tomas Kopecky missed a partial breakaway shorthanded and Santorelli missed a great rebound opportunity. Late in the period, Theodore bailed out another one of his teammates. This time it was Kopecky turning the puck over in the slot, but once again, Theodore was there to shut the door.
The Panthers began the third period down to five defensemen after it appeared Dmitry Kulikov was cut by a Carolina skate near his ankle. He would not return. Nevertheless, the Panthers started the third period much like the first, playing with a great amount of energy and cycling the puck strongly. Despite their solid play, the Panthers still could not take the lead.
The momentum for the Panthers was put on hold after Ed Jovanovski took a silly interference penalty early in the period. The Cats were unusually undisciplined tonight as they took five penalties, with Erik Gudbranson taking another midway through the third period. However, the Panthers penalty kill was a key to the game as they were able to kill off all five using that aggressive style.
Around the midpoint of the period, Jack Skille drew a penalty shot after he was tackled from behind by Joni Pitkanen. Unfortunately for the Panthers, Skille was denied by Ward. It looked as if the Panthers might not have what it took to put another past Ward when Fleischmann missed a glorious chance set up by Stephen Weiss. The puck got caught up in Fleischmann’s skates and he was unable to slip it into the empty net.
However, with about three minutes left, the Panthers finally capitalized to take the lead. Kopecky made a great play on the forecheck to keep the puck in the zone and slid it down to Shawn Matthias at the goal line. Matthias was able to bank the puck in off Ward to give the Panthers a one goal lead, with Kopecky getting the assist. Although the Canes pulled Ward and pushed for the equalizer, Matthias was able to add his second goal of the night and fifth of the season as he slid the puck into an empty net with 49 seconds to play.
The Panthers played well throughout the game, especially on the penalty kill. Theodore was spectacular in net, stopping 26 of 27 shots. Although the Panthers didn’t do anything flashy, they played the type of tough road game that you need to play throughout the long NHL season if you hope to make it to the playoffs. This game was particularly important for the Panthers not only because they wanted to end their brief losing streak, but also because it was against the division rival Hurricanes. The Panthers now head to California to take on the Los Angeles Kings on Thursday night.