In a must-win game before heading on the road, the Panthers pulled out a huge come-from-behind victory over the Islanders with 2 goals from the team’s youngsters and 1 from a not-so-surprising source.
The Panthers came out of the gates strong with a handful of solid shifts and tons of shots on net to begin the game, but a penalty to Jaromir Jagr disrupted the momentum. The Islanders took the lead at the very end of the 2nd period after a point shot by Calvin de Haan ricocheted off the end boards behind the net and to the other side where Brock Nelson was able to put it into a virtually empty net.
Nick Leddy gave the Islanders a 2-0 lead in a wild 2nd period as his slap shot from the high slot bounced around in front of the net and hit Roberto Luongo’s pads before trickling behind him. The Panthers attempted to challenge the play for goaltender interference, but it was determined there was none on the play after a lengthy review, causing them to lose their timeout for the rest of the game.
Aaron Ekblad was thought to have scored his 3rd goal of the season and the first for the Panthers on the night during a power play towards the end of the period but again, things did not go their way. Ekblad’s point shot deflected off an Islanders’ player’s body to the left of the net and past Jaroslav Halak, and the referees waved off the goal right after the puck went in. They then came together near the scorer’s table, announced it as a goal, and then overturned it after the Islanders challenged for goaltender interference.
“Between the second and the third, we talked about how we’re only down 2-0,” said Gerard Gallant. “We’ve given up some comebacks up in the last couple weeks, so let’s try and comeback and battle hard and see what happens.”
Down 2 in the 3rd, the Panthers’ chances seemed bleak until Kyle Rau netted his first career NHL goal with a dogged effort around the net. Mike Matheson made a fake at the point to open up a shooting lane at which point the puck hit Rau in front of the net. He gloved it down, took a shot, and then somehow snuck the rebound between Halak and the post to make it 2-1.
“It feels good,” said Rau. “That was a huge one for us. It’s about the guys in the locker room; we never stopped believing. We were fortunate to come out with a win.”
A late penalty by Matheson with about 9 minutes to go and then Yandle with 2:49 remaining made it seems as though the Panthers were doomed but with under a minute left, Roberto Luongo was pulled in favor of James Reimer to get a quick breather for the team as they were without their timeout from earlier. Reimer skated hard to the bench for the extra attacker and Jonathan Marchessault scored his team-leading 8th goal of the season – on a wrist shot that just barely made it through Halak – to tie the game at 2 with 14 seconds left in the 3rd.
In overtime, the Panthers were unable to convert on a power play, but 19-year old Denis Malgin won the game after redirecting a shot from the slot by Vincent Trocheck earning the team some revenge on the Islanders who ousted them from the playoffs in April.
Overall, it was a massive victory for the Panthers who needed something to feel good about after a rough stretch of games over the past couple of weeks. The defense was marginally improved as Aaron Ekblad was paired with Mark Pysyk while Mike Matheson moved down to the 3rd pairing with Alex Petrovic. The forward lines were tweaked ever-so-slightly with Jussi Jokinen and Jonathan Marchessault switching spots in the top-6.
“It’s a big win for us,” said Roberto Luongo, who made 19 saves on 21 shots. “Not just a matter of getting the win, but as a rallying point for the guys that we can hopefully build up around and take the momentum of it. The emotions of the win, hopefully we can carry it through the next little while here.”
The Panthers will face the Montreal Canadiens for the first time this season on Tuesday as they go on the road for the next 4 games. The Canadiens are undefeated in 10 games at home this season and have lost just twice in 15 games, once in regulation and once in OT. They face the Blackhawks on Sunday, but defeated the Red Wings 5-0 on Saturday with goals from Danault, Byron, Weber, Shaw, and Pacioretty.