If Jacob Markstrom needed to state his case whether he deserves to stay with the Panthers after this week, another strong performance on Thursday night against the Blackhawks did just that.
Markstrom made 31 saves – including six in overtime – although he couldn't stop Patrick Kane on Chicago's third shot in the shootout as the Blackhawks left BankAtlantic Center with a 3-2 win.
The Panthers have lost their past two, although picked up points in each by losing in the shootout.
“He's going to be one hell of a goalie,'' Kris Versteeg said afterward. “He's just going to keep getting better. He's been playing great for us.''
Markstrom could be the odd man out of the Panthers goaltending situation when Scott Clemmensen returns from a rehab assignment as early as Monday in Toronto.
Florida could carry three goalies, trade one or send Markstrom to San Antonio of the AHL – where he will get plenty of starts while the Panthers front office figures everything out.
The Panthers have said they are looking long term when it comes to Markstrom so it would not be surprising if he's starting in the minors next week.
Clemmensen left for San Antonio on Thursday afternoon and will play Saturday and backup Brian Foster on Sunday. If Clemmensen looks strong, he could be quickly recalled as the Rampage don't play again until the following weekend. Clemmensen doesn't know what the future holds either.
“I'm going down with the best intentions, to get my game in order,'' said Clemmensen, who had meniscus surgery on his right knee in September. “The plan is for me to join [the Panthers] soon. But I, of all people, know that one thing there is for sure in this business is that anything can happen. You never know.''
If this is indeed the last time the Panthers see Markstrom in net for a while, he made things memorable. Markstrom looked as strong Thursday as he did last week in Montreal when he made 40 saves and beat the Canadiens 2-1.
The Blackhawks led 2-0 as Jonathan Toews knocked a loose puck into the net with his skate 4:04 into the game and Marian Hossa scored off a Patrick Kane pass about the same time in the second.
Florida, which looked slow in the early goings of the second, came hard in the second half of the period and put some real heat on second-year goalie Corey Crawford.
Stephen Weiss cut Florida's deficit in half with 1:41 left in the second period when he charged in on Crawford and followed his own blocked shot by knocking the puck into the net.
The Panthers kept the play in the Chicago end for much of the final 30 minutes as they outshot Chicago 14-5 in the third.
With 2:10 left, Weiss had a shot blocked and Chicago failed to clear the puck as Dmitry Kulikov made a great play to save it. Kulikov then unleashed a shot from the blue line, Ed Jovanovski deflecting it from in front of the net past Crawford to tie the score and help force overtime.
“We completely outplayed them in the last three-quarters of the game,'' Versteeg said. “It was a good comeback but their goalie won them the game, give him props. But we're happy with the way we played. A loss is a loss, but we got the point. The way we played, we could have won by a few goals. That's the way the bounces go.''
Said Jovanovski: “It was nice, if you look at the shot clock, we had a lot of opportunities. It was good to force overtime and take our chances in the shootout. It would have been nice to get the extra point, but one is better than nothing after being down 2-0. We're a real resilient bunch. Hopefully we can build off this.''
CLEMMENSEN ON MEND
Clemmensen took off to San Antonio after Thursday's morning skate and will start for the AHL Rampage Saturday night against the Toronto Marlies.
For Clemmensen, just getting back into the game is fine with him. Clemmensen had surgery to repair the mineskus in his right knee in the early going of training camp. He practiced with the Panthers for the first time on Monday.
“I came off a long summer, there were a lot of changes here and excitement was building,'' Clemmensen said. “And then a week into training camp I get hurt. My season has been delayed by about five weeks so I'm excited to get it going. I want to be a part of this thing. I need some game time and see some game situations.''