BY SCOTT MORGANROTH
For some crazy reason, I had a feeling on my 17 minute ride on the Sawgrass Expressway to the BB&T Center that the Florida Panthers would pounce on the Detroit Red Wings.
During the past 48 hours, the Panthers had to deal with the reality that if they’re going to make a run at Lord’s Stanley Cup, they’ll do it without defenseman Aaron Ekblad, who underwent successful surgery Monday to repair a fracture in his lower extremities and is expected to be out of the lineup for 12 weeks.
Ekblad suffered a fracture in his left leg Sunday in the Panthers 4-1 win over the Dallas Stars in Texas. The former No.1 overall pick was enjoying his best season of his career. He’s currently tied for the league in goals amongst defenseman with 11 and also collected 11 assists over 35 games.
On March 27, the Panthers placed forward Patric Hornqvist on the injured list.
But good hockey teams don’t let injuries slow down their quest to win a championship.
There have been recent schedule changes that will put the Panthers on National Television with NBC picking up a couple games down the stretch.
On Tuesday Night at the BB&T Center, the contest featured a matchup of two squads that had two-game winning streaks.
After getting hammered 7-1 at Nashville to the Predators on Thursday, March 25, the Red Wings bounced back nicely over the weekend with a pair of victories over the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Detroit won both home games by out scoring Columbus 7-2 and were led by backup goaltender Calvin Pickard.
Going into the Panther’s game, Pickard had a 2-0 mark with a 2.12 Goals Against Average. I have to admit that I was looking forward to seeing him for the first time.
But the Red Wings committed a Cardinal Sin early in the game.
They gave up a goal to Jonathan Huberdeau 17 seconds into it and Florida led 1-0.
To make matters worse, the Red Wings trailed the Panthers 3-0 by the 12:25 mark in the first period.
Huberdeau’s goal was his 14th of the campaign and extended his point streak to three games as he’s amassed five in that span. He also led Florida with 23:54, time on the ice.
By this time, Pickard had faced eight shots, made five saves and three more saw the back of the net forcing Detroit Coach Jeff Blashill to make a change.
Pickard saw his record drop to 2-1 in what would turn out to be a 4-1 loss to the Panthers.
The way the Red Wings were playing, it looked like Nashville all over again.
But Thomas Greiss settled things down and the Red Wings trailed 3-0 at the end of the opening period.
It was hard to believe that Florida outshot Detroit 11-10 as the Red Wings were playing poorly on defense early on that caused them to fall behind quickly.
It made me wonder did the Panthers defeat the Red Wings or did Detroit defeat itself?
All I know is legendary Red Wings Gordie Howe and Henrik Zetterberg weren’t walking through the door to help the Red Wings on this night.
This would be a night where the Panthers were actually out shot by their opponent. Detroit out shot Florida 36-33 which meant only one thing.
Florida goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky was outstanding between the pipes.
The second star of the game faced 36 shots and gave up just one goal. You talk about a clutch performance at a tough time, he delivered it.
“We’re missing a few guys, but I think it’s also opened up the opportunity for other guys to play a bigger role, bigger minutes and earn their spot in the lineup,” Bobrovsky said. “It’s some adversity for us to overcome, to get together and be strong. I thought the guys did a great job tonight again. We had a great start up 3-0. Then we had some good composure and played our game. It’s a great win.”
The No.1 star of the game was Carter Verhaeghe who had a pair of goals including the game winner. He is a scoring machine. This was his third multi-goal game of the season and he has amassed five goals and six total points in his past three games.
He has 15 even strength goals this season which is tied for the league lead and registered a personal season-high six shots on goal.
Furthermore, the guy has 17 goals and 30 points.
While Verhaeghe was pleased with his performance but he downplayed that and focused on what really mattered.
“The team has been doing well. We’re on a three-game winning streak now after a three-game losing streak, so it shows resiliency of our team. Everyone’s playing more roles, guys that haven’t been playing are playing now and getting opportunity. It kind of adds a little more excitement to the lines. I think the guys have done a a great job rolling with it.”
Brett Connolly scored a goal but the significance of it was that was his 100th of his career. He echoed the sentiments of Bobrovsky and Verhaeghe.
“It’s good to see guys step up after losing a key player, guys filling in and playing a really good hockey game tonight.”
We all know the game of hockey is physical and the Panthers suffered yet another injury.
Anthony Duclair notched an assist but unfortunately didn’t return for the third period leaving the game with an upper body injury. He’s expected to miss up to 10 days.
Coach Quenneville was pleased with the effort of his squad.
“We did what we were hoping for. We had a great start, lots of pace, good puck movement and everybody was involved in the flow. Some really good things happened in the game. Bob (Sergei Bobrovsky) had some big saves on the penalty kill, he was excellent all game long. Carter Verhaeghe drives the pace in the game. You’ve got to appreciate that he does find a way to get the puck and does have speed.”
The Detroit Red Wings went 1-4 on the power play and much of that was attributed to the play of Bobrovsky.
The only real highlight of the game was a goal by power play goal by Filip Zadina, who fired a wrist shot from the face-off circle, a tally that you would see at the skills competition. It was that good. Detroit trailed 3-1 at this point.
The Panthers out-hit Detroit 29-26, led by Eetu Luostarinen who had five.
With the win, the Panthers improved to 23-9-4 and have a three-game winning streak. They have won four of their last five at the BB&T Center and are the third NHL team to reach the 50 point mark this season.
The Panthers are tied with Tampa Bay in the Central Division but the Lightning have played one less contest.
They did it in their 36th game of the season, the second-fewest games required to reach 50 points in franchise history (34 GP in 1996-96).
The Panthers improved their record over Detroit to 5-2 this season and are 12-2-1 in their past 15 matchups against the Red Wings.
Detroit is headed back to the lottery and now own a 12-21-4 mark with 28 points and are last in the Central Division.
These two teams will meet one another for the final time on Thursday at 7 PM.
Regardless of who Detroit has between the pipes, falling behind early as the Red Wings did is a recipe for disaster against a hungry Panthers squad that is not using the injury issues as a crutch to collapse late in the season. The Panthers have had four players get hurt in the past week.
Leave little doubt who will be in the net for Florida on Thursday Night as Bobrovsky, who improved his record to 14-5-2 owns the Red Wings. He improved his all-time record against Detroit to 18-6-1.
This will be an interesting game for two teams heading in different directions.
Scott Morganroth can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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