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Florida Panthers Surprisingly Lose Late Lead as Mighty Blue Jackets Charge Back, Win 3-2 in OT

ATTJCVAQ BLUE JACKETS 3, PANTHERS 2

The Panthers grabbed a two goal lead in the opening period against Columbus on Wednesday night. Anyone following this team lately knows that wasn't a good omen.

Yes, Florida gave up yet another late goal Wednesday as the visiting Blue Jackets battled back from a two goal deficit just as four other opponents have in recent weeks.

And once more, the Panthers watched a valuable point in the standings float away. The Blue Jackets, who had lost seven of their past eight, got a goal from Antoine Vermette with 52.7 seconds remaining then won in the final minute of overtime as R.J. Umberger scored on a power play to lift the Blue Jackets to a 3-2 win in Sunrise.

“I don't even know what to say. This is inexcusable,'' defenseman Bryan Allen said. “I don't even know if it's a let down. We're just letting teams hang around. If we get that third goal, it's a different game. We need to find a way to hold on to leads whether its 2-0 or 3-0. We need to pull these games out.''

The Panthers have won three of the first five games on this six-game homestand that concludes Friday against the rival Lightning.

Thanks to late meltdowns against Columbus and Atlanta, Florida has picked up eight of what should have been 10 points during this run of home dates. Atlanta trailed 2-0 before scoring in the final two minutes, winning 3-2 in a shootout.

“We need to bear down and get these points. We've let these games slip,'' Darcy Hordichuk said. “These are games that come back to haunt you at the end of a season.''

Atlanta isn't the only team that's been finding a way to come back on the Panthers. Coming into Wednesday, Florida held a two-goal lead in six of its previous 10 games. In those six games, they gave up that lead five times – and won just two of those games.

Columbus made sure the Panthers didn't make that three.

The Panthers took the initial lead when David Booth followed up a hard shot from Mike Santorelli – who now has a point in 11 of his past 12 games -- and beat Steve Mason on the rebound less 2:43 into the game.

Cory Stillman gave Florida its cursed two-goal lead less than six minutes later, head-butting the puck past Mason at 8:21. Stillman, crashing the net looking for a dirty goal, got his chance when Radek Dvorak's slap shot bounced off Mason and hit Stillman's helmet.

The Panthers had plenty of other chances to beat Mason and the tired Blue Jackets (who lost in a shootout in Tampa on Tuesday night) but never fully took advantage.

“I liked our start, we were ready to play,'' coach Pete DeBoer said. “But it's been a repeat of a lot of nights. We get the lead, have some opportunities to extend it when the other team pushes back and we don't. We let them stick around and you see what happens. We lose our composure in the final minutes and I need to find a way to instill some confidence in the right guys out there.''

Columbus, which was almost completely outplayed through the first period, cut its deficit in half late in the opening period. Florida failed to get a stick on a Steve Bernier clear attempt, one that found its way to Fedor Tyutin retreating the zone on the left side. Instead, the puck found his stick and Tyutin pulled back and fired, the 50-foot shot finding its way through traffic and past Vokoun for the Blue Jackets' lone goal of the night.

Florida didn't do much in the second period but watch the Jackets get scoring opportunities despite  having three power plays chances during the session. It appeared as if Columbus joined the likes of Atlanta, Montreal, Carolina (twice) and Washington to come back from multi-goal deficits on Florida when Derick Brassard fired off a puck during a horrible Florida clearing shift.

Video review showed Brassard's shot banged off the crossbar of the goal cage. Bad for Columbus, lucky for the Panthers. The Panthers weren't so lucky late in the third when Michael Frolik fired off a long power play shot that Stephen Weiss deflected past Mason. Neither Evgeny Dadonov nor Booth could get to the slippery puck despite it being so close to the open cage.

With just over a minute left, the Jackets pulled Mason and Columbus came hard at the Panthers, Vermette joining the scramble in front and knocking a loose puck past Vokoun. It never should have been that close.

“I don't know what it is,'' Vokoun said. “I've been here a long time and this isn't a [new] event. It's happened a few times. I don't what to tell you. If I knew what it was, I would figure it out for everyone here. It's costing us points and it's not good.''

One reason the Panthers lost to Atlanta on Monday night was giving up two goals in the final two minutes of the game. Another was lost opportunities. At least four players missed open nets, with Bernier misfiring on a shot with a wide-open net in the third; Allen missed an empty net just before Bryan Little scored Atlanta's first goal of the night.

The Panthers followed that same trend on Wednesday.

“You've got to bury a team,'' DeBoer said. “You've got to stick a fork in them, and we don't. That's been our problem all year. We don't have the killer instinct. That leads to the late game collapses. We're not giving up breakaways. The goals we give up are scrambles and results of not finishing off the other team when we get the chance.''


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