It's almost hard to fathom that the last time the Florida Panthers won four straight games, Jacques Martin was not only coach but general manager as well. Way back in 2008, Olli Jokinen wore the captain's 'C' on his Florida sweater, not Bryan McCabe.
The Panthers are going to have to wait a little longer for that elusive fourth straight win.
Florida, which led by two late in the third, watched the visiting Thrashers tie things up with 1:14 remaining before winning it 3-2 in a shootout. Bryan Little and Chris Thorburn scored for Atlanta in the final two minutes, with Alexander Burmistrov's shootout goal winning it.
Still, the Panthers weren't all that down and out after the game. Florida picked up a point in the standings – although it gave up one to a team it is chasing – and can finish this six-game homestand strong with games Wednesday and Friday.
“I thought we played a hell of a game,'' coach Pete DeBoer said. “As a coach, there's not much I would have changed in the first 58 minutes. Then they pull the goalie, we made a mistake as a couple guys left the zone a little early and they got a bounce around the net. On the last one, again, you play 58 minutes and don't make many mistakes. We made a few in the last few minutes and the puck ends up in the net.''
The Panthers were trying to match their longest winning streak since winning seven straight in a failed run to the playoffs from March 2-16, 2008. The Panthers had been 3-0 to kick off a six-game homestand that concludes Friday against Tampa Bay.
The Thrashers snapped a four-game losing streak as they came into the game with only three wins in their previous 12. The Thrashers hold the eighth and final playoff slot in the Eastern Conference and picked up a point on Florida and two on ninth-place Carolina after the Hurricanes were blown out in Boston.
Neither team scored until Dennis Wideman beat Ondrej Pavelec top shelf when Florida held a two-man advantage early in the third. Florida added to that goal less than three minutes later when Dmitry Kulikov's shot got behind Pavelec and past defender Brent Sopel on another power play chance.
The previous three meetings had been decided by a single goal. It would again. The Thrashers, down 2-0 with an empty net, got goals with a strong rush to force overtime as the Panthers coughed up another late lead. The Thrashers have won three of four against the Panthers this year.
“We deserved to win that game, we played well,'' Wideman said. “We just couldn't find the puck on the first one; the second one was kind of flukey. They battled hard. We're desperate too and have some ground to make up. We need to win. I thought we played hard from start to finish. We had them right where we wanted them.''
Said goalie Scott Clemmensen: “They were attacking us and we got back on our heels. We should have expected a big push from them. They were whacking away. That's it. They got bodies in front and threw the puck at the net. I'm disappointed in giving up the lead, giving up the point in overtime.''
The two divisional rivals had no problem in the hit department, with Kane hitting the boards hard after being sandwiched between Wideman and Rostislav Olesz in the opening period.
Kane, coming toward the net, was run by Wideman and collided with Olesz, taking Olesz's shoulder in the face. Olesz then helped lead Kane into the boards. After going hard into the back boards, Kane was slow to get up. Kane would get back into the game and was called for high sticking Jason Garrison at the end of the period.
Olesz was not called for a penalty on the play, but could possibly face retribution from the league if it is determined he lifted his elbow to ram Kane.
-- Florida's power play is definitely showing signs of life, with seven goals in the past four games. Wideman has three of those goals.
Defenseman Bryan McCabe was put on the injured list on Monday and will miss at least the next month after needing facial surgery on Sunday. McCabe broke his jaw during the first period of Saturday's overtime win against New Jersey, yet missed just one shift.
McCabe, who was also playing with a broken finger, came back on the ice with a cage on his mask – and couldn't complain about the pain. If he did, no one would have understood him.
“We were laughing on the bench a little bit,'' DeBoer said, “because there were times in the third where he would ordinarily be yelling for the puck. All you heard was mumbles. We forgave him for that. Quite a show of guts and determination. Guys like that are few and far between. You appreciate his commitment to doing whatever it takes to win for however long he can go.''
McCabe's obvious high tolerance for pain left quite an impression on his teammates.
“He's a tough player. Coming back from that, what can you say? I can only imagine how much pain he was in during the game,'' goalie Tomas Vokoun said. “That was the kind of injury you could understand if he came out. But he came right back and played the whole game through it. It says a lot about him. It's not like you're not going to be hit or they were going to take it easy on him. It's great to see that kind of commitment.''
-- With McCabe out, Keaton Ellerby was called up from the minors. Because of the length of McCabe's injury, Ellerby will get plenty of playing time over the coming weeks.
“I have a chance to keep improving and show the coaches that I belong up here,'' Ellerby said. “As for McCabe, that's a tough break. The team's been playing well lately and he's been the backbone of this team for a couple of years now. It's a tough loss for us. Just knowing you're going to be in is big for preparation. You show up at the rink ready to go.''