Excuses could’ve been made for the Panthers on Friday night, but none were. A tough loss the night before, little to no rest after traveling, and the final game of a road trip, ending a stretch of 8 out of 10 away from home. The excuses were there for the taking.
The Panthers didn’t bite.
“The fact that the guys came in today, dug deep into the tank to pull out as much a energy as they could was real impressive,” said head coach Tom Rowe.
In 10 games under Rowe since the coaching change at the end of November, the Panthers now have points in 7 of them despite playing only twice at home. Not only that, but they’ve managed to keep themselves within reach of a playoff spot as they now trail the Bruins for the third Atlantic Division spot by just 2 points.
Fedor Tyutin scored for the Avalanche in the 1st period, but the Panthers would get 3 straight from Jason Demers, Reilly Smith, and Mike Matheson to pull away with a 3-1 victory, giving them just their second regulation win since November 19th.
Smith’s goal came off a shorthanded breakaway to cap off an incredible night for the Panthers’ penalty kill which was a perfect 6-for-6. They’ve now killed off 34 of their last 36 penalties and are second in the league on the kill since November 29th with a success rate of 94.4 percent.
“Penalty-killing was outstanding,” Tom Rowe said. “We had to kill off  penalties, and it really wore the guys down and everyone dug deep.”
In his first start since December 6th, James Reimer made 30 saves on 31 shots in what was a continuation of a solid effort on Tuesday to stop all 5 shots faced against the Wild in relief of Roberto Luongo. The Panthers are now 9-0-3 when scoring 3 or more goals in regulation.
“I’m really happy for James [Reimer],” said Rowe. “He’s in a different role for us [than he’s used to] as we explained to him when he came in as a free agent, but I was real happy for him tonight playing the way he did.”
“He was rock solid,” said Mike Matheson of Reimer. “He made a lot of huge saves in the 1st and 2nd [periods], and then obviously at the end of the game we got scrambling around a bit, but he was always somehow there.”
The power play went 0-for-3 tonight, but the chances where there, most notably when Keith Yandle’s wrist shot from the point rang off the cross bar early in the game. They scored on all 3 of their chances against the Jets on Thursday, and puck movement has been much better in the offensive zone with the man-advantage.
The Panthers will now travel home where they’ll play 10 of their next 13 game beginning Tuesday against the Buffalo Sabres. The road trip ended at 1-1-1 with 3 out of a possible 6 points, putting them one ahead of the intra-state rival Tampa Bay Lightning.
Buffalo defeated the Islanders 3-2 in overtime on Friday and will face the Hurricanes on Saturday before heading to South Florida for Tuesday’s matchup.
“To finish the road trip [at] .500, that’s kind of your goal,” said Reilly Smith, who’s first shorthanded goal of the season stood up as the game-winner. “A little bit of a tough start in Minnesota, but it was good to finish it off this way.”
“It’s a long flight home, and it’s nice to have a good attitude, a good vibe in the plane on the way home,” said James Reimer.