THRASHERS 4, PANTHERS 3 (OT)
ATLANTA – Even back when the Panthers were rolling at full strength, they had trouble putting teams away by fully capitalizing on quick starts.
On Saturday night, with a patched-together post-trade deadline lineup, the Panthers found themselves in a familiar predicament. Despite dominating play on the offensive side of the ice in the opening period, Florida got just one goal.
Atlanta tied the score early in the second, added two in the third and got an overtime goal from Andrew Ladd to beat the Panthers 4-3 at Philips Arena. The Thrashers snapped a four-game home losing streak and handed Florida its 17th loss in 22 games.
All six games between the two teams this season – and 11 of the past 13 – had been decided by a single goal.
“We had a good start, had a good forecheck going that created some turnovers and that turned into chances,'' said winger Sergei Samsonov, who scored Florida's first goal and had a second taken away by a quick whistle. “We just lost momentum in the second, battled back in the third and almost got it done.''
The Panthers were flying offensively in the opening frame, with Samsonov scoring 5:46 into the game with himself, Stephen Weiss, David Booth, Steve Bernier and Niclas Bergfors getting some excellent chances against goalie Chris Mason. Samsonov, who came to Florida in one of four trades last Monday, had a second goal erased after officials said they blew the whistle after the puck hit Mason's mask.
“That was the explanation,'' Samsonov lamented. “There's no point in arguing that one. There were a lot of quick whistles.''
The Thrashers had survived the onslaught and tied the score 43 seconds into the second when Blake Wheeler scored off a rebound. The Panthers ended up committing four penalties in the second – including a four-minute high sticking on Jason Garrison for popping Chris Thorburn in the mouth with his stick – but didn't give up anything more.
Atlanta's power play went 0-for-4 in the second but struck early in the third when Ladd got his first of the night 1:08 into the period. The Thrashers looked to put the Panthers away when Wheeler got his second of the night to make it 3-1.
Coming into Saturday, the Panthers had scored one goal or fewer in six straight games.
The Panthers finally got some offensive mojo going when Weiss' slap shot off a faceoff beat Mason at 7:58 of the third. Weiss' goal came five seconds into a power play and was Florida's first power play goal since Feb. 21. The Panthers had been 0-for-19 before Weiss scored.
Booth tied the score three minutes later after beating Mason on a Dmitry Kulikov rebound, Booth finally rewarded after missing out on numerous chances of late.
“It's good we came back, but it's not good enough,'' Booth said. “We need to develop a mentality of winning games and that starts now. It can carry over into next year. We showed some determination, never gave up, but we need to win there.''
The Panthers and Thrashers then battled until the finish with Atlanta's Bryan Little looking to put things away with his hard shot with 90 seconds remaining. Little's shot skipped off the goal cage and slid across the goal line. No matter. Atlanta ended things early in overtime after Dustin Byfuglien raced past Keaton Ellerby and fed Ladd for the game-winning goal 25 seconds in.
“I was real happy with the effort, proud of how we dug in,'' coach Pete DeBoer said. “We didn't quit in the third, kept coming at them. Keaton made a gamble in the neutral zone in overtime, but he's a young guy playing in a key situation. He'll learn from that next time.''
BERGFORS FITS IN
With the Panthers struggling to put pucks in the back of the net, DeBoer moved Bergfors – picked up in the Radek Dvorak deal with Atlanta last week – to the top line with Weiss and Samsonov.
Bergfors, who was a healthy scratch 11 times this season with the Thrashers, helped that top line create a bunch of chances early on. Bergfors got his first point with the Panthers on Samsonov's first period goal.
“We're going to give him some quality ice with some skilled people and some power play time,'' DeBoer said. “Hopefully he can some offense. He seems to be a good kid and works hard. He's going to get an opportunity to show his stuff here.''
-- The Panthers will see defenseman Dennis Wideman on Sunday when the Capitals come to town. Wideman, traded to the Capitals from Florida last Monday, has led Washington in ice time in each of his first two games and is a plus-2. Wideman was a minus-26 with the Panthers.
-- Defenseman Alexander Sulzer left Saturday night's game in the second period with an undisclosed injury and did not return.
SUNDAY: CAPITALS AT PANTHERS
When, Where: 5 p.m.; BankAtlantic Center
TV/Radio: FSNF; WQAM 560
The series: Capitals lead 46-40-9
The game: The Panthers have won two of the three games against the Capitals this season with center Mike Santorelli scoring three goals against Washington. .-.-. The Capitals have won four of their past five games and did not play Saturday. Florida played at Atlanta. .-.-. The Capitals are seeking their first four-game winning streak since Nov. 24-Dec. 1 and can take over first place in the division with wins Sunday and Monday (at Tampa Bay).
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Florida Panthers Rally from 3-1 Deficit in Third, Lose 4-3 in OT to Thrashers
THRASHERS 4, PANTHERS 3 (OT)