SENATORS 4, PANTHERS 1
By the time the third period started, the only suspense remaining for those Panthers fans in the building was whether or not backup goalie Tyler Plante would finally make his NHL debut.
The Panthers never did bring Plante in Thursday night, although there was plenty of speculation they would after the visiting Senators scored three goals in the second period off Scott Clemmensen en route to a 4-1 win at BankAtlantic Center.
Florida's loss, its seventh straight, pulled them into a tie with the Senators for last place in the Eastern Conference. More importantly, the Panthers are now tied for 28th overall in the NHL standings. If Florida can continue to lose and finish in 28th, it would likely give them a top three pick in the upcoming draft. The Panthers have won just four of their past 18 home games.
“That was a disappointing effort and we haven't had many of those,'' coach Pete DeBoer said. “We didn't deserve points here and that's the bottom line. There haven't been many nights where I've questioned their effort, but [Thursday] was a bad one.''
Ottawa, led by 37 saves -- “you could have stopped 30 of them'' DeBoer said -- from former Panthers backup Craig Anderson, snapped a two-game losing streak as it finishes its string of games.
The Panthers coaches and players have long maintained they don't care about draft seeding although last year's team lost eight of its final 10 as the Panthers finished last in the Southeast Division for the first time in franchise history and picked third – defenseman Erik Gudbranson – overall.
Thursday's 'tilt' was a battle of two teams making early tee times and potential big-time changes this offseason. The Panthers don't know if DeBoer will return nor what the team will look like after general manager Dale Tallon revamps things with a ton of money to spend.
Florida, swept in the season series by Ottawa for just the second time in franchise history, had plenty of energy early as Darcy Hordichuk finally got his fight with Ottawa's Francis Lessard. When these two played March 10, Lessard was ejected for knocking out Scott Timmins (who still hasn't returned from the concussion suffered that night). Hordichuk tried to fight him then, but Lessard declined. Hordichuk got his opportunity just 2:41 into the game. Hordichuk and Lessard also fought Feb. 23 in Ottawa.
And that was about the lone highlight of the night for the sagging Panthers. Oh, Michal Repik scored a pretty goal, slicing a puck along the goal line to beat Anderson. Other than that, it was all Senators.
“I missed an empty net earlier so I was glad to find a way to score one,'' Repik said. “Basically I just put it on the net and was lucky it stayed in the net.''
Ottawa led 2-0 after goals from Nick Foligno and Colin Greening before Repik cut the deficit with his goal at 6:02 of the second. Greening got his second of the night 24 seconds after Repik's goal, with Filip Kuba making it 4-1 with 5:36 left in the period.
-- DeBoer said he's treating Clemmensen like the Panthers starter while Tomas Vokoun is out with a back injury saying Clemmensen deserves the chance to play. Clemmensen has spent the past two seasons as Vokoun's backup. Plante is expected to make his NHL debut eventually as it appears Vokoun could be out some time – although DeBoer says it's too soon to tell whether Vokoun's season is over.
“We're trying to win every game and Clemmensen has paid his dues here,'' DeBoer said. “He's been here every day for two years, practiced every day and has been a good teammate. He's also played well. This isn't training camp. We're trying to send the right messages and the message is he deserves to play for what he's done.
"Vokoun is a free agent so there's a question mark about our goaltending going forward. Clemmensen is under contract and we know he'll be back for sure.''