BY GEORGE RICHARDS Twitter: @OnFrozenPond
It had appeared the schedule had become easier for the Florida Panthers as they came home after winning consecutive road games and welcomed in four teams below them in the standings.
Nothing comes easy for the Panthers.
Florida, on the verge of losing its lead in the Southeast Division to Winnipeg, lost for the fourth straight time Thursday as the struggling Minnesota Wild won 3-2 in a shootout at BankAtlantic Center.
The Panthers went winless on their four-game homestand, picking up just one of the eight available points.
And on a night in which Stephen Weiss became the franchise leader in games played at 614, no one was in any mood to celebrate. Especially the frustrated Weiss.
“We're not worried about the past three games but [Thursday] we needed a better result,'' said Weiss, who has just two goals in the past 30 games and none in the past 10.
“We have to find some ways to score some goals. One point is better than none, but that's not good enough.''
Thursday's game matched two of the league's early surprises who have both fallen on hard times. Luckily for the Panthers, they play in the Southeast Division so their four-game losing streak hasn't hurt them as much as losing hurt the Wild.
Minnesota started the season 20-7-3 and led the league in points in December; since then, the Wild have gone through a brutal stretch (7-17-6) and started Thursday 12th in the West. Before beating Boston last Sunday, the Wild had lost seven straight.
“We can't look at other teams to lose; we have to bear down and do our part,'' Mikael Samuelsson said. “We have to win to make the playoffs and that's our goal.''
On Thursday, the Panthers woke up after a slow start and dominated play for much of the second period.
Florida broke its goal drought when Samuelsson scored on a power play with 6:37 left in the second.
The Panthers had gone 2 hours 14:03 since Tomas Fleischmann scored with 40 seconds left in the first period of Friday's 2-1 loss to the Capitals.
The Panthers were at one point outshooting Minnesota 13-1 in the second period but the Wild got things going at the end of the frame and started peppering Jose Theodore – Minnesota's backup last season – with shots.
The Wild tied the score with 19.8 seconds left when Marek Zidlicky fired a shot that bounced off Dany Heatley and Kyle Brodziak put home.
With Weiss in the box in the third, Minnesota made it 2-1 on Matt Cullen's goal in which he trapped a Theodore rebound and pushed it through. Florida tied it and basically earned its first point since Feb. 12 after Sean Bergenheim backhanded a shot while backing down Greg Zanon with 4:12 left.
Even though the Panthers had chances late and in overtime, they couldn't score and watched the Wild score on both of its shootout shots. Florida, now just 3-7 in the shootout, went a quick 0-for-2.
“Sometimes you go through stretches when you just don't score,'' Bergenheim said. “But all-in-all, we have to do a better job in front of both nets.''
The Panthers apparently lost center Marcel Goc to an undisclosed 'lower-body' injury as he reportedly left Wednesday’s practice early. Goc is listed as day to day by the team.
With Goc and Matt Bradley (concussion) out, Florida was forced to bring up two forwards from its AHL club in San Antonio. For Michal Repik, Thursday marked his 17th game of the season with the Panthers. For center Jonathan Matsumoto, it was his first.
Florida acquired Matsumoto from Carolina in the Evgenii Dadonov trade last month.
Matsumoto played in 13 games with the Hurricanes last season with two goals.
“I've been trying to get accustomed to San Antonio but I'm excited to come up here and show what I can do,'' said Matsumoto, who scored 17 goals in the AHL this season.
() The Panthers got defenseman Ed Jovanovski back after he missed 14 games with a broken right hand suffered in a fight on Jan. 16. Jason Garrison, who has missed five games with an undisclosed injury, is expected to return Saturday against Carolina.
Nolan Yonkman was returned to San Antonio after playing in one game with the Panthers.
“He's a player,'' Dineen said of Jovanovski, “and he comes to play. He'll be a great benefit for us."
() The Panthers don't play the Wild often, but when they do, a milestone is usually reached.
Radek Dvorak became the Panthers' all-time leader in games played when the two teams met last on Nov. 10, 2010. On Thursday, Weiss passed Dvorak for the honor.
SOUTH FLORIDA LEADERS
Games played, franchise record
1,128: Luis Castillo, Marlins
614: Stephen Weiss, Panthers
593: Alonzo Mourning, Heat
242: Dan Marino, Dolphins