Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
Driedger shines again; Hoffman, Ekblad with two points each
On a night in which the Florida Panthers watched one of their franchise legends raise a banner of his own into the upper reaches of the BB&T Center, one would think the home team would’ve had some additional motivation to win one for their longtime netminder.
Maybe Roberto Luongo should retire before every home game.
The Panthers managed to break a franchise-record eight-game losing streak at home, securing a 4-1 victory over the Montreal Canadiens and pulling to within three points of the idle Toronto Maple Leafs.
Florida is also three points out of a wild card spot, with a game in hand on the Columbus Blue Jackets.
The first period would be fairly even in terms of scoring chances but the Cats would leave the period with a shot lead. Goaltenders Charlie Lindgren and Chris Driedger had a couple of high-quality chances against, but both were up to the task. Other than that, not much of note for either club.
The Panthers would break the stalemate about halfway through the second period as newcomer Lucas Wallmark would collect a Noel Acciari tip pass with speed. He then faked a slap shot and cut across the front of the net, beating Lindgren to bury a backhander for a 1-0 lead.
Florida would then immediately shoot themselves in the foot as the team took two back-to-back high sticking penalties, the first being a double minor from Dominic Toninato to the face of Joel Armia, who left to head to the dressing room.
After killing off about three minutes of the double minor, Aaron Ekblad took the next high sticking penalty, catching Brendan Gallagher up high. The Panthers PK did a fantastic job of keeping the shots to the outside and blocked some bombs from Jeff Petry and Shea Weber to kill both penalties.
The Cats then got a power play of their own to close out the period but couldn’t beat Lindgren despite some great chances for Mike Hoffman. That power play would carry over into the third period, but the Panthers waited a second or two for it to expire before Mackenzie Weegar ripped a one-timer past Lindgren after taking a pass from Ekblad after an offensive zone faceoff win by Frank Vatrano.
Florida would quickly strike again as Jonathan Huberdeau tapped home his 23rd of the season thanks to an excellent cross-ice pass from Erik Haula. The Panthers couldn’t rest on their three-goal lead however as Montreal’s Jake Evans would pot his second of the season a little under four minutes later, throwing a nice wrister far side top shelf on Driedger.
The Panthers managed to keep the Habs in check and with about two minutes left Montreal would pull Lindgren to try and creep within one. Hoffman would intercept a chip along the boards and spin around with the puck quickly, firing it into the empty net for a 4-1 lead to seal the deal.
- LBC would like to congratulate Roberto Luongo on his jersey retirement ceremony before the game. There’s no player in Panther history that deserves it more than Lou, who is not only one of the game’s all-time greats in goal, but is also an all-time great human being. He provided so many of us with some jaw-dropping moments in goal, and I think everyone wishes he would’ve had one last chance to compete for a cup. Regardless, his jersey deserves to hang forever in the rafters for this franchise, and it was fantastic to see his entire family there to share in the honor and emotion of the event.
- The more Driedger plays, the more buyer’s remorse the Panthers are going to have regarding the Sergei Bobrovsky signing. He looks absolutely solid and is as cool as they come, not seeming to get rattled despite the shaky defensive play in front of him at times. Bobrovsky is more of a reactional, reflexive goaltender while Driedger seems to be more positionally sound. Perhaps one is more suited for the defensive personnel in Florida. Driedger might not be the permanent solution for Florida, but he’s definitely playing like the best solution for what remains of this season.
- The power play for the Cats is very predictable and mostly terrible. They have trouble gaining the offensive zone, they are far too stationary, the skaters look lackadaisical and lack urgency, and players are lazily passing the puck with far too few shots and traffic in front. At this point I don’t think the coaching staff can fix it; it’s up to the players to treat it with the level of urgency required to make it work.
- Evgenii Dadonov had his legs moving all night and drew a penalty in the first period and nearly another in the second. He didn’t see the score sheet but as head coach Joel Quenneville puts it, he was playing, “the right way.”
- Riley Stillman was injured in the second period and did not return. He’s been a pretty solid presence on the blue line for quite some time now and it would definitely be a blow to the Panthers to lose him for any length of time. Let’s hope he’s alright and will be back soon.
- I’m not sure what the deal is with so many of the Cats defensemen attempting to play defense from below the goal line, but it happened at least four times that I could count in this game. Mike Matheson was guilty of it three of the four instances. Need I say more?
- The Panthers took a 2-1 lead in the season season that concludes later this month. Visit Eyes On The Prize to see how Habs fans are feeling.