RED WINGS 4, PANTHERS 3
When a supposed Detroit fan tossed a slimy Octopus onto the BankAtlantic Center ice late in the second period, he probably hurt his team's cause more than he helped it.
That patron, who was promptly and roughly escorted out of the lower bowl by Sunrise's finest, tossed the cephalopod in the middle of a play, one in which the Red Wings were cycling the puck and looking to put the Panthers away for good.
As usual, the Panthers are a tough group to finish off.
Florida, down two at the time of the Octopus toss, scored two goals to tie the Red Wings only to watch short-time Panthers forward Todd Bertuzzi score from the left circle and lift Detroit to a 4-3 win in front of an announced 19,947 in Sunrise.
The Panthers, now two games under .500 in the win/regulation-loss column, have had 18 of their past 21 games decided by one goal.
“To be tied late in a game against a team like Detroit, well, you have to be doing something right,'' defenseman Mike Weaver said. “We just needed that last goal. It shows we have something going on here. We have a great penalty kill, the power play is picking up goals. We have some things to work on, but I like what's going on. You can sense the turnaround.''
Bertuzzi played in just seven games during his brief stint in South Florida, the power forward coming to the Panthers in the controversial Roberto Luongo trade in 2006. Bertuzzi had a monster night in his first game with the Panthers, then had a back injury and was traded to Detroit at the end of that first year. He's now just another name in the Panthers long list of bad trades.
His game Friday was reminiscent of Opening Night 2006 when he scored a goal and had three assists in a win over Boston.
Bertuzzi scored Detroit's opening goal just 1:21 into the game off a nice pass from Henrik Zetterberg. Bertuzzi's game-winner came after the Panthers gave Detroit an odd-man rush, with Bertuzzi sprinting in just in time to fire Johan Franzen's pass from the left circle past Tomas Vokoun with 7:32.
All the momentum the Panthers had built in tying the Red Wings seemed to evaporate.
“We're knocking on the door and it's easy to be frustrated with the one goal losses,'' said Jack Skille, who had a chance to score in the second but he misfired on a nice pass from Stephen Weiss on a 2-on-1. “We need to get the first goal and stop working from behind.''
Florida trailed 2-0 early in the first but countered with 3:07 left in the opening period when Radek Dvorak outraced Niklas Kronwall to a puck and drove in on goalie Joey MacDonald. Dvorak's off-center shot hit MacDonald before trickling over the line.
The Red Wings added a goal from Pavel Datsyuk off a Panthers defensive breakdown deep in the Florida zone, but Dennis Wideman beat MacDonald with a hard shot during a power play with 21.2 seconds left in the second to allow the Panthers to go into the second intermission down just one.
“We gave them a couple chances early and they stuck it in the net,'' coach Pete DeBoer said. “You know what you're dealing with in Detroit. Credit our guys for sticking with it and battling for 60 minutes. We needed a save or a goal at the end and didn't get one.''
The Panthers had plenty of scoring chances in the third period, with Weiss tying the game on a shot midway through. Bertuzzi gave Detroit the lead back, but Florida put pressure on at the end but came up short.
On one sequence, with Vokoun on the bench and the net vacant, Florida couldn't get a puck to the net after Wideman broke his stick on a shot and Cory Stillman whiffed on his. When the Panthers retook control of the puck, Weiss was offsides. At that point, only five seconds remained and the Wings left the Sunshine State a perfect 2-0 after beating the Southeast Division leading Lightning 6-2 on Thursday.
“We wanted a quick start and didn't get it, but I think we played our game after that,'' Weaver said. “Detroit's a good team. They're a puck possession team and overall, we did pretty good. We just didn't get the result.''
Captain Bryan McCabe returned to the Panthers lineup for the first time since breaking his jaw during a game against the Devils on Jan. 15. McCabe has been working for the Panthers the past week and says he feels fine and was ready to go.
“It's been a long time and I'm excited to get back out there, have some fun,'' McCabe said. “There's no pain or anything. I just have to get my timing back, get my legs under me.''
With McCabe in the lineup, Joe Callahan was a healthy scratch.
-- The Panthers called up winger Kenndal McArdle – Florida's first pick in the Sidney Crosby draft of 2005 – on Thursday night as a precaution if Steve Bernier couldn't play. Bernier, who missed Wednesday's game after falling ill, was feeling good Friday and played. McArdle did as well. The Panthers scratched bruiser Darcy Hordichuk.
McArdle and Callahan could be returned to Florida's AHL affiliate in Rochester, N.Y., as early as Saturday. The two could stick around at least through Saturday's game in Tampa just in case.
SATURDAY: PANTHERS AT LIGHTNING
When, Where: 7:30 p.m.; St. Pete Times Forum, Tampa
TV/Radio: FSNF; WQAM 560
The series: Panthers lead 51-34-10
The game: The Panthers haven't fared well in the second game of a back-to-back set this season, going 3-8-0. Tampa Bay had Friday night off after losing to the Red Wings 6-2 on Thursday night. The Southeast Division leaders, the Lightning have lost three of four. Florida has won two of three against the Lightning this season. Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos, 21, has six goals and six assists in 12 games against the Panthers.