Valuable points were on the line once again as the Panthers opened up a 3-game road trip with a 2-1 loss to one of the league’s top teams in the Columbus Blue Jackets on Thursday night.
The Panthers entered the night 6 points back of the second wild card spot, although with each passing night, the hill to climb to reach a playoff position has become steeper and steeper.
However, with just 13 games remaining in the season and a good amount of ground to cover, there’s almost no room for error if the they wish to have a shot at making the postseason.
After Tuesday’s 7-2 rout of the division-rival Maple Leafs, it seemed the tides might be turning once again for the Panthers’ offense, but it didn’t help that they had to follow that up with a meeting with Sergei Bobrovsky of the Blue Jackets.
The Russian netminder was tough to solve as he earned his league-leading 38th win of the season by stopping 33 of the Panthers’ 34 shots, setting a new Blue Jackets franchise-record for home victories in the process.
One of those 34 shots came 3:44 into the 1st period and nearly gave the Panthers an early lead, and perhaps it should’ve. After a coaches challenge, the Columbus netminder was deemed to be interfered with as Jonathan Huberdeau put a rebound into the net.
Despite that, the Panthers’ other Jonathan – Marchessault – scored his team-leading 23rd goal of the season when he put his own rebound past a sprawled out Bobrovsky with 1:45 left in the opening frame.
That would be all the Panthers could manage for the rest of the night as the Blue Jackets scored twice in a span of less than 4 minutes late in the 2nd period to tie the game and get the eventual game-winner.
Zach Werenski snuck a wrist shot between James Reimer and the post from a tough angle to make it 1-1 before Josh Anderson took the lead for Columbus with a deflection in the low slot.
Reimer was impressive as he stopped 32 shots, but the scoring wasn’t there in front of him. He has now allowed 2 goals or fewer in 5 of his last 8 appearances while having the 3rd-best save percentage in the NHL since December 1st.
It was a strong effort for the Panthers, who looked to become the only team in the league this season to defeat the Blue Jackets three times (now 2-1-0), but it didn’t earn them the two points – or even one at the very least – that they so desperately needed.
The Panthers’ road trip continues with the second game coming on Friday night against the New York Rangers. The teams have split the other two meetings of the season with the Rangers winning 5-1 at the BB&T Center just over a week ago.