Panthers can’t hold lead in heartbreaking overtime loss to Canadiens

Image courtesy of @turbuL3NT2 / COTP Photography
Image courtesy of @turbuL3NT2 / COTP Photography

It didn’t feel like a home game for the Panthers who fought through the crowd of Canadiens fans on Thursday night in the second game of a back-to-back. 

The Panthers thought their job was just about done, but they were wrong like they have been many times this season. Jason Demers opened the scoring while Vincent Trocheck would eventually make the lead 2-1 in favor of the Panthers, who were looking for their 3rd regulation win since November 22nd.

With just under 2:30 left in the 3rd period and a victory in sight, Jussi Jokinen, Derek MacKenzie, and Colton Sceviour all became caught deep in the offensive zone on a failed forecheck, and the Canadiens broke out on an odd-man rush. Brendan Gallagher snapped a 7-game pointless drought to tie the game at 2 and send the game to overtime.

“We blew the coverage on the tying goal,” said a blank-faced Tom Rowe. “It’s pretty simple coverage and we work on it all the time.”

In the 3-on-3 session after regulation, Jokinen left the center of the ice wide open by gliding towards where he thought there was going to be a loose puck, and that allowed Phillip Danault to take off, receive a pass, and score on a breakaway to end the game.

It was the 16th time in 37 games this season that the Panthers went past regulation to find a winner, and they’ve now won just 2 out of 9 games that have gone to overtime or a shootout since Rowe took over at the end of November. They were 6-1 under former head coach Gerard Gallant.

James Reimer was in net and was solid just about all night long stopping 38 of 41 shots by the Canadiens. Al Montoya, who left the Panthers as a free agent in summer, stopped 31 of 33 shots, including a highlight-reel save to rob Aaron Ekblad of a sure open net goal in the 2nd period.

“When you lose, it’s not good enough,” said Reimer of his effort. “It’s frustrating. I felt, as a team, we played well. They just got a lucky break late. (Phillip Danault) made a nice play in OT. The guy just made a good shot on his breakaway.”

The Panthers went 1/3 on the power play, lead 20-8 in hits, and had 24 giveaways to the Canadiens’ 9.

The loss is the Panthers’ 4th in a row and 7th in their last 10 games, although if there’s any silver lining, it’s that they’re miraculously just 4 points off of Boston for the 3rd and final Atlantic Division playoff spot with a game in hand.

“We’ve got to learn how to close out games as a team,” said Trocheck. “I think we’re just sitting back too much once we get leads, just like the other night [vs. Toronto]. We play our game up until we get a lead and we feel like we need to support that lead.”

For New Years’ Eve, the Panthers will head to Dallas to take on the Stars at 8:00 PM. They’ve been decimate by injuries too, but have managed to win 5 of their last 7 games, including Thursday by a score of 4-2 against the Avalanche.

Reilly Smith could return to the lineup after suffering a concussion last Friday against the Red Wings, however Aleksander Barkov isn’t expected to play. Rowe said he’ll likely miss 2-3 weeks with an undisclosed injury after leaving the game in the 2nd period on Wednesday against the Maple Leafs.

Michael Sgarbossa, who was called up following the injury to Barkov, made his Panthers debut on Thursday and performed admirably on a line with Colton Sceviour and Denis Malgin. He was 50 percent in the face-off circle and had 2 shots, including the first of the game for the Panthers, in 10:25 of ice-time.

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