The Panthers were back in Brooklyn to face the Islanders for the first time since that heartbreaking game in April, but the mindset was no different. Two points were on the line and they needed both badly to get on a roll before heading home.
With the players’ fathers attending their second straight game as part of the team’s first annual Dads Trip, there was certainly a lot to play for. The Panthers had a team dinner at Bamonte’s on Tuesday night for fourth straight year, and last year it propelled them onto a franchise-record 12-game win streak.
They’re hoping it does the same this time around, although the Panthers have been in good shape as of late, winning 3 of their last 5 games entering Wednesday’s matchup, including a shutout of the Devils on Monday.
Keith Yandle opened the scoring 5:37 into the 1st period with a rocket from the left side, and that turned out to be the highlight of what was a solid road start for the Panthers. Nick Leddy got the equalizer at the halfway point of the 1st, but Jason Demers’ career-high 8th goal of the season at the start of the 2nd stood up as the game-winner.
After recording 16 shots in the 2nd period alone, the Panthers had just 1 in the 3rd while surrendering 12 to the Islanders, matching their number from the opening frame.
Roberto Luongo made 29 saves on 30 shots and even added in a roughing penalty of his own in the 3rd after becoming fed up with swipes taken at him by the Islanders following whistles. The Panthers’ defense was once again able to limit the number of second chances had by the Islanders, and that was certainly an important factor in getting the win.
“Sometimes it’s not pretty,” said Yandle. “I think when you’ve got a guy like [Luongo] back there kicking the way he has been all year for us, we’ve gotta find a way to get a few goals and he’s gonna be making saves back there.”
For the first time this season, the Panthers now have wins in consecutive games, and that really speaks to how they’ve been able to overcome a lot of adversity and finally begin to play the right way, at least when the puck isn’t on their sticks.
“I think as a unit of 5 we’re starting to buy in more and we’re all kind of getting used to each other,” said Demers whose previous high in goals (7) came in 19 more games last season with Dallas. “We kind of realize that we can’t outshoot and outscore teams all year, and especially with the injuries we have, you gotta play a tight defensive game.”
Head coach Tom Rowe has preached for weeks about being simple with the puck and not forcing plays, and that’s how they’ve earned their 4 wins in the last 6 games in addition to 4 straight on the road.
“I think on the road we play a lot more simple,” said Rowe, “and don’t try to force plays where the ice is unavailable. It’s a style we’re going to have to adopt when we get back home on Friday night. I think the guys are starting to gain some confidence in what we’ve been talking about.”
“We played the right way both games and I think that’s the key for our team,” said Luongo. “We have a lot of guys out of the lineup right now so we have to realize that sometimes we’re going to have to win games ugly and I thought the last 2 games were a perfect example of that.”
It won’t be the last that the Panthers see of the Islanders as the season series will conclude with a rematch on Friday in Sunrise, Florida. The two teams met there back in November when the Panthers tied the game late and won in overtime, and with how chippy things got on Wednesday, it wouldn’t be surprising to see a similar, physical, low-scoring affair at the BB&T Center to kick off a brief 2-game home stand.
|Post-game notes: Denis Malgin returned to the lineup on Wednesday after missing the 2nd and 3rd periods on Monday against the Devils. He had been removed from the game for precautionary reasons after a high hit by Pavel Zacha … Greg McKegg (upper body) was said to be ’50-50′ for Wednesday’s game, but did not play. He and Seth Griffith (upper body) are likely to play on Friday against the Islanders … The Panthers have reached 127 man-games lost to injury … Jason Demers now leads the team’s defensemen in scoring with 8 goals and they now combine for 24 goals in 43 games this season.|