CANADIENS 3, PANTHERS 2
MONTREAL – It's never too early to talk about the NHL's trade deadline in Canada, so coach Pete DeBoer knew he would have to address the subject on this road trip.
It's not like he or his players haven't been thinking about it anyway.
With the Panthers in their usual spot of looking up at the final playoff spot with envy, DeBoer and the Panthers know they can't afford too many more losses before general manager Dale Tallon begins tearing things down a little earlier than some players may like.
Those Panthers who want to stick around didn't help their cause with Wednesday's 3-2 loss to Montreal at Bell Center. The Panthers had a chance in the past two nights to pick up some serious ground but pulled one point closer to the postseason. With wins in Toronto and Montreal, the Panthers would have picked up four points.
Instead, the Panthers continue to trail Atlanta by seven points for the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference. Florida has lost seven of the past eight and three straight.
If Tallon hasn't been making calls before, well .-.-.
“It's not a distraction. It's a motivator,'' DeBoer said before the loss. “It's been very clear that in four weeks from now, this thing is going to go one of two ways. It's our job as players and coaches to make the decision very hard on Dale. These are desperate times for the Florida Panthers.''
Afterward, DeBoer admitted it was tough to watch opportunities continue to slip away.
“It's hard. What do you want me to say? I'm not going to hang myself,'' he said. “It's frustrating. This is a tough league and we're a team with some depth issues. We have young kids playing some key positions. They are working hard but it's not translating into points. .-.-. The fact we're not 2-0 or winning every night, well, I don't know if that's realistic.''
As usual, the Panthers played a good defensive game and held a 1-0 lead on the Canadiens. Only the slim lead didn't last, and Montreal got a fluke goal midway through the third and held on for the win.
With 14:14 remaining in a tie game, Montreal's Tomas Plekanec took aim at Tomas Vokoun as Brian Gionta was crashing the net. The puck struck the bottom of Stephen Weiss' skate as he was trying the stop and bounced past Vokoun and into the net. Gionta scored a bit later to make it 3-1.
“I don't know what to say. It's just frustrating,'' said a sullen Weiss, who pulled Florida within one by scoring with 2:10 left. “We play hard, we just have to be better at finding ways to win. That's the bottom line. We make one mistake and it ends up in our net, every single time. A turnover here, it's in the net. Deflection? In the net. We worked our butts off all night around the net and got nothing. We just have to stay with it.''
Gionta later scored Montreal's third of the night as he jammed in a loose puck. That became the game-winning goal after Weiss pulled Florida to within one with 2:10 remaining after banging in a rebound off a Michael Frolik shot.
The Panthers took a 1-0 lead in the first period when rookie center Scott Timmins picked up his first NHL goal after knocking in a rebound off a shot from Rostislav Olesz. Timmins, 21, made his NHL debut on Tuesday against the Maple Leafs.
The Panthers have one of the top penalty kill units in the league this season and they were put to the test Wednesday. Montreal, which scored two power play goals in Sunrise on New Year's Eve, trapped the Panthers into two penalties early in the first and two (both on Dennis Wideman) late in the second.
Montreal didn't score on any of its five power play chances.
-- The Panthers may have lost rookie winger Evgeny Dadonov for an extended period of time as he broke a finger late in the first period on Wednesday. Dadonov, Florida's lone representative at All-Star Weekend, started off with two goals and six assists in his first eight games. He has no points in his past eight games.
Florida may call up a forward from its AHL affiliate in Rochester, N.Y., to play Friday in New Jersey.
The Panthers penalty kill has helped the team stay at least within sight of a playoff spot. Florida ended last year with the 23rd-ranked penalty kill in the league; it came into Wednesday's game ranked eighth. Florida has given up just 26 goals on 166 chances this season.
One big help to the power play has been the fact that they don't have to work too hard. The Panthers came into Wednesday as the league's lowest penalized team, taking an average of eight minutes of penalties per night through the first 50 games.
-- Steve Bernier has been in DeBoer's doghouse the past few weeks. After not scoring in 20 straight games, the veteran winger was banished to the press box as DeBoer scratched him from the past three games.
Bernier was back on the ice Wednesday as the native of Quebec City was put in the lineup against the Canadiens. Bernier spent most of his time on the fourth line on Wednesday.
“Same as anyone: He dug himself that hole and he knows why he's sat for three straight games,'' DeBoer said Tuesday. “When he gets the opportunity, he needs to make the most of it. He's played some good hockey for us for a stretch early. Then his game fell off. He's not the only one. We have an extra body around right now so the desperation has to be there.''
CANADIENS 3, PANTHERS 2
Florida Panthers to Escape Snowy Toronto, Only do so with a Point ... Leafs win 4-3 in Shootout ... Booth Spins to Win, Comes up Short
MAPLE LEAFS 4, PANTHERS 3 (SO)
TORONTO – The Panthers have already made the turn and are playing the back nine of the 2010-11 season, their playoff hopes fading as the sun sets on the course, time definitely not on their side.
Florida went into the All-Star break with just one win in its final five games, although precious points were picked up in three of those losses.
With that in mind, Tuesday's 4-3 shootout loss to the Maple Leafs doesn't hurt so much. And thanks to losses by Carolina and Atlanta, the Panthers even picked up a little ground.
“We're racing down the stretch and this really is playoff hockey right now. I've already started my playoff beard,'' defenseman Mike Weaver joked. “We just need to come together and grow as a team. We have to forget this and move on. We have to be at our best on every shift from here on out.''
Coach Pete DeBoer wasn't happy to just get a point against the slumping Maple Leafs as the Panthers lost a nice opportunity to pick up some good ground in the race for eighth place in the Eastern Conference. Not as importantly, however, was the Leafs pulling to within five points of the Panthers.
The Panthers never held a lead in Tuesday's game with the Leafs taking a 1-0 lead and matching all but Florida's final goal after that.
Florida trailed 3-2 going into the third period and a comeback win would have been extremely rare although a deflection goal by Cory Stillman off a power play at least helped the Panthers salvage a point.
The Leafs may not be very good, but they are strong at holding onto third period leads. Florida is, well, not so good at coming from behind. The Panthers have won just one of 15 games in which they trailed going into the third. The Leafs improved to 15-0-2 when holding lead going into the final session.
“We looked like we were still on the All-Star break during the first but we got better as the game went on,'' DeBoer said. “We had opportunities to win the game. You're never happy to just get one point, but it was probably the fair outcome.''
The Panthers got a good showing from their last-place power play, scoring two of their three goals when holding the advantage. Toronto's leaky penalty kill surely helped, but so did nice shots from David Booth and Stillman. Booth followed up a rebound off a Michael Frolik shot to tie the score at 2 in the second period before Toronto tied it 1:22 later. Stillman deflected a Dmitry Kulikov shot to tie the score at 3 with 3:41 left in regulation.
Florida had plenty of chances to win the game but goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere was hard to handle. He stopped the Panthers on numerous chances in the third period and stoned the Panthers in overtime.
The Panthers had a 1-0 lead in the shootout after a nifty spin-a-rama move by Booth – one he tried out on Tomas Vokoun during Tuesday's practice – but the Panthers were stopped on their final two shots of the session and the Leafs pulled out the win. Toronto had lost six of seven coming in.
Like a good number of Florida players, center Scott Timmins grew up watching and cheering on the Toronto Maple Leafs. He never thought he would need to ask the Panthers to get him five tickets so family members could attend Tuesday's game, but since he was making his NHL debut against his childhood team, he needed to do just that.
Timmins, 21, was called up from Florida's AHL affiliate in Rochester, N.Y., on Monday night so to center the Panthers fourth line. The Panthers needed a center with Shawn Matthias out for the next two months with a broken ankle.
“I did not expect this at all. It's just amazing to be here,'' said Timmins, a sixth-round pick in 2009 who has 10 goals and 31 points in his first professional season. “Every Saturday night, I was watching the Leafs on Hockey Night in Canada. This is really exciting. I think I've had a pretty solid season in Rochester and this is a little reward. If I get into a game or two, I have to make the most of it.''
DeBoer knows Timmins pretty well, having coached him in the Canadian juniors for two seasons from 2006-08. DeBoer, the coach and general manager of the Kitchener Rangers at the time, said Timmins has good speed and is a very smart hockey player.
“I'm real familiar with him,'' DeBoer said. “He's capable of transitioning here. We need a center. We don't even have a lot of wingers who are comfortable playing there.''
The Panthers had used Michael Frolik at center of the fourth line on Monday but since Frolik hadn't played the position since his days in junior hockey, Florida decided to bring up Timmins.
-- DeBoer said that starting Clemmensen on Tuesday was planned before the All-Star break because the coaching staff didn't want Tomas Vokoun starting on back-to-back nights after having time off. Vokoun is scheduled to start Wednesday in Montreal and should also start Friday in New Jersey.
-- The Panthers officially announced it will hold a special Saturday afternoon practice at Glacier's Ice Arena in Lighthouse Point. The team practiced at the facility during its early years when the rink was named Gold Coast. Festivities at Glacier's begin at 2 p.m. with the Panthers taking the ice at 4 p.m. The event is free and open to the public.
WEDNESDAY: PANTHERS AT CANADIENS
When, Where: 7:30 p.m.; Bell Center, Montreal
TV/Radio: FSNF; WQAM 560
The series: Panthers lead 30-29-6
The game: This is the third meeting between the two teams this season with both teams winning away from home. The Panthers have picked up three of the available four points against Montreal. The Canadiens had lost three of four heading into Tuesday's game at Washington. Former Panthers coach and general manager Jacques Martin has won four of six against Florida since becoming Montreal's bench boss last season.
Florida Panthers Welcome Scott Timmins to the Bigs ... Clemmensen Start Planned All-Star Along ... Steve Bernier Sits Again
TORONTO -- Sitting here in Toronto waiting for the big snow to hit. They say it's the biggest snowstorm to hit Toronto in three years. When it's the biggest snowstorm to hit Nashville, big deal. Toronto? This thing must be massive.
Anyway, the Panthers are scrambling for travel out of town after the game. Either they are going to fly out as soon as the game ends, or they may have to train it to Montreal.
We'll see what happens.
I may or may not be making it to Montreal.
-- Scott Timmins makes his NHL debut tonight, centering the fourth line with Michael Frolik and Darcy Hordichuk. Timmins, in his first pro seasons, has played in the Memorial Cup the past three seasons and played for coach Pete DeBoer in Kitchener.
Timmins, from Hamilton, will have his mom and dad as well as two brothers and a sister here in Toronto for his NHL debut. Kid grew up a Leafs fan, so he's pretty psyched to be getting his first NHL experience in Toronto.
Will have more from him later.
-- Timmins will wear No. 75. Who else has wore this number for the Panthers? Answer below.
-- Don't make a big deal out of Scott Clemmensen starting tonight. DeBoer told me that the plan all along was to start Clemmensen in Toronto (he plays well here) and Tomas Vokoun in Montreal tomorrow (he plays well there).
The coaching staff didn't think it was smart to roll Vokoun out on back-to-backs coming off a long weekend. Especially since the Panthers play Friday in Jersey and then are off again until Tuesday.
-- With Timmins up and Hordichuk in the lineup, that means Steve Bernier is out for a third straight game. He could be back in tomorrow against the Habs, although DeBoer may want to keep Hordichuk in there to keep the Canadiens honest.
-- Trivia Answer: Ha, trick question! Timmins will become the first Florida Panther to wear No. 75. Who knew?
-- Happy Birthday to Mitch Rubenstein of Fox Sports.