BY SCOTT MORGANROTH
What a difference 48 hours make.
On Tuesday Night, Panthers rookie goaltender Spencer Knight notched his first NHL win as the Florida Panthers cruised to a 5-1 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets.
The stage was set for Thursday Night as Florida had a chance to take sole possession of first place in the Central Division by defeating rival Carolina.
There was plenty of hype leading into this game and the Panthers were looking to snap a five game winless streak against the Hurricanes 0-3-2.
Each of Florida’s two home games against Carolina 0-0-2 were decided in a shootout or overtime.
Ah yes, the makings of a heavyweight fight at the BB&T Center.
At the beginning of the game, that’s exactly what we had as at 14:43 in the first period, Ryan Lomberg drew a five minute fighting penalty vs Cedric Paquette.
You could feel the energy in the building as he skated into the penalty box. I did see a fan wear a Lomberg jersey.
Lomberg registered his fourth fighting penalty of the season, and third in his past six games.
The Panthers fed off the energy and took the lead at 13:38 in the first period on a goal by Aleksander Barkov, who notched his 20th goal of the season. The Panthers led 1-0 at the end of the first period but were outshot 9-6.
The Hurricanes regrouped in the second period and wasted no time getting on the scoreboard as Jordan Marlinook scored his fourth goal of the year just 14 seconds in the second period. Jordan Staal picked up his 19th assist of the year.
At the 9:39 mark of the second period, Lomberg went back to the penalty box, this time for slashing.
The Hurricanes made the Panthers pay on the power play as Nino Niederreiter scored his 17th goal of the year with assists coming from Brett Pesce (19) and Martin Necas (24). At this point the Hurricanes were up 2-1.
When you go to a sporting event, you always see something new and this night was no exception!
Carolina’s third goal of the game was short-handed as Sebastian Aho registered his 19th of the campaign. The Hurricanes had a 2-1 breakaway and found themselves up 3-1 at the end of the third period.
Aho would pick up an empty net goal in the third period for his 20th of the season and that was also a short-handed tally.
The something new that I’m referring to is the ineptness of the Florida power-play as the Panthers were 1-9 with the man advantage and gave up two short-handed goals.
The Panthers only power-play goal was on a 5-3, two man advantage, as Barkov got his second of the night for his 21st of the year.
The Panthers came out and played a physical hockey game! You could tell they wanted to run the Hurricanes out of the building!
They out-hit the Hurricanes 28-18.
The other statistical battles Florida won were the face-off battle 35-29 and they out-shot Carolina 34-29.
The only area Florida didn’t win was on the scoreboard which matters the most, a 4-2 defeat.
Sergei Bobrovsky looked solid between the pipes for Florida making 25 saves.
But there is no doubt that the Panthers needed to win this game in the worst way.
Florida fell to 30-13-5 and remained at 65 points, while Carolina improved to 31-10-5 and is in sole possession of first place. The Panthers have played 48 games.
The second place Panthers lead third place Tampa Bay which is 31-14-2, 64 points. The Lightning have played 47 games.
What’s worse about this loss for Florida is even with a win on Saturday Night against the Hurricanes at 7 PM at the BB&T Center is, Carolina has two games in hand, having played 46.
The last thing Florida wants to do is fall deeper in the division and lose home ice advantage during the playoffs.
After the contest, there was little doubt that the Panthers knew they let this one get away and were ready to move on.
Coach Joel Quenneville said that giving up the two short-handed goals was very deflating and knows his special teams play needs some work before Saturday Night.
“You’ve got to be better and more resilient than were were tonight to get it effective, and we’ve got the game on Saturday to correct it (power play). We would like to win a game in regulation against them. Their special teams are great and we have to play a perfect game against them to win.”
Lomberg was definitely ready to put this game behind him.
“We’re definitely looking forward to next game and getting some redemption for sure. It had that (playoff) feel from puck drop to the final buzzer. We knew it was going to be an intense game, you’ve got to tip your cap to them, they played well. We welcome the challenge, we know we can beat this team so we’re looking ahead looking forward to the next game.”
Barkov echoed those sentiments.
“We’ve got to keep our cool and play as hard as we can. We’ve just got to battle and work all 60 minutes, no shifts off. Every shift, you’ve got to work.
“This is not the result we wanted. The third period was good for us and that’s how we need to play all 60 minutes.”
The Panthers had a practice at 11 AM on Friday at the BB&T Center and I wouldn’t be surprised if Quenneville was looking for different power play combinations to throw at the Hurricanes Saturday Night.
Saturday’s game is the final regular season meeting for these squads, who could see one another in the playoffs.
The last thing Panthers fans want to see is the Hurricanes celebrating on their home ice as they have three times this season.
Right now when the Panthers face off against the Hurricanes is to win “A” regulation time contest as Quenneville said.
Scott Morganroth can be reached at Scottbm33@gmail.com and you can follow him on Twitter @TribuneSouth. You can listen and watch his broadcasts by subscribing to The South Florida Tribune You Tube Channel free.