|@ Wild (28-25-10)||1||0||2||3|
Neither team seemed to be able to get the puck on net in the first few minutes of the game, but the Wild had more opportunities in this front than the Panthers did. Zach Parise, who is in his first game back from injury, picked up right where he left off and passed the puck to Charlie Coyle to give the Wild the lead. The Panthers were getting pummeled early on, and this was taken to a literal sense when Al Montoya took an elbow to the face in a Marco Scandella collision. Scandella was called for goaltender interference, but the penalty probably should have been longer because Roberto Luongo started suiting up. In any event, the penalty was promptly killed. The Panthers were riddled with turnovers and bad bounces and that wasn’t seeming to change much throughout the period. There would be a bit of 4-on-4 toward the end of the period because Aaron Ekblad and Nino Niederreiter were penalized for roughing. The penalties were killed and the Panthers started to gain some momentum but it came too late into the period. At the end of the period, the Wild led 1-0 and also led in shots on goal 9-6. This period certainly was not a good one for the Cats. Their defense was not good and their offense was even worse. There are many new line combinations today and clearly they aren’t working out. They may be adjusted in the second.
The Panthers seemed to be a strong, physical force in the second. This was both good and bad. The Panthers were beginning to wake up but they also were a bit more reckless. Nick Bjugstad was called for high sticking and the Wild got their first power play of the game. The power play didn’t last very long, though, because Matt Dumba interfered with Jussi Jokinen. Mike Matheson had a couple of great opportunities and the Panthers’ abbreviated power play but Devan Dubnyk saved each one. However, Dubnyk could not stop shots from another young defenseman by the name of Aaron Ekblad. In the final seconds of the power play, Aaron Ekblad scored a goal, assisted by Jussi Jokinen and Aleksander Barkov. Right after this, Dmitry Kulikov was called for slashing and the Wild would have the opportunity to reclaim the lead. The Wild had an explosive outburst of shots in this stint but for this outburst of shots, Luongo made an outburst of incredible saves. The Panthers were lacking in the defense department, with Kulikov in the box and Derek MacKenzie on injured reserve, but Luongo killed the penalty for them. Even strength play did not last for long because just minutes after the penalty was killed, there was a scrum in front of the net. Steven Kampfer and Marco Scandella went at it and got roughing penalties, but the Panthers got the extra call because Garrett Wilson wanted in on the action. The penalty was killed and even strength play continued. The Panthers were generating more offense but the period could not end without another Florida penalty. This time, Brian Campbell was sent to the penalty box for cross-checking in a call that would carry over into the third. At the end of the period, the game was tied at 1 but the Wild held the edge in shots on goal 18-15. This period was better than the first, but the defense still was not as good as it should have been. If the Panthers improve their defense, the offense will come with it in a game like this.
Both teams had multiple decent opportunities early in the third but the goaltenders looked sharp. Thomas Vanek had a particularly strong breakaway opportunity that Luongo had to stop. Then, these breakaway chances kept on coming. Erik Haula got sole possession of the puck and was able to score an admittedly beautiful goal to put the Wild in the lead. Here we go again. The Wild were on fire now. That is, until Jared Spurgeon was called for a delay of game penalty. Although the Panthers could not score, they gained back some of their momentum on this power play. At this point, the momentum didn’t matter. The game winded down to a close and after a too-many-men penalty and a Jason Pominville empty net goal, the Panthers came up short.
Aaron Ekblad scored an extremely important power play goal to put the Panthers on the board midway through the second. Despite not actually scoring, Mike Matheson proved himself in his second NHL game with some great two-way play. Kyle Rau’s homecoming was pretty glorious and he had multiple great scoring chances.
The Panthers will continue their road trip on Tuesday, March 1st at 8:00 pm ET against the Winnipeg Jets. Stay tuned for a COTP preview and recap of that game.