BY GEORGE RICHARDS [email protected]
FACEBOOK: On Frozen Pond
COLUMBUS, Ohio – Those Florida Panthers fans who were making plans for the playoffs should have known better.
These are, after all, still the Panthers.
Only the Panthers, it seems, could go from being a postseason lock with six of the worst teams in the league on the schedule and win just one of those games. Friday was an absolute disaster for the Panthers as Columbus – the NHL's worst team – took Florida out 4-1 at Nationwide Arena.
“We have to find a way to win that game,'' Brian Campbell said. “We have four games left and we really have to pour it on. Everyone knows what is at stake.''
Friday's meltdown – one team employee called it “Chernobyl” – came off Thursday's loss in which the Panthers coughed up a 2-1 lead in Minnesota with 30.3 seconds left before losing 15 seconds into overtime.
“We looked tired for one and a little tight and there were some coaching mistakes from the bench,'' said coach Kevin Dineen, whose team gave up four power plays with two coming off having too many men on the ice in the second period alone.
“We're going to move forward from here, take care of the tired part and get some rest. We're going to move on. It's not like we're going to pass this off. We made mistakes. Self-inflicted mistakes. We need to learn, get our energy back and get some trust in each other back.''
Are Florida's postseason hopes done? No.
The Panthers still hold a four point lead on Washington with both teams having four games remaining. If Florida loses Sunday in Detroit, which has to be expected at this point, the Capitals could overtake the Panthers for first place in the division before the two meet next Thursday in Washington.
Since beating Philadelphia on March 20, the Panthers have lost to Carolina, Edmonton, the Islanders, Minnesota and the Blue Jackets. The only win in this stretch was a shootout win in Montreal on Tuesday. Florida has picked up at least one point in four of the past six games.
“It was a big game for us and a disappointing finish and outcome,'' said Scottie Upshall, who finished last season in Columbus. “This could have gone either way. They were very loose and we don't play that style. We're used to playing a tight game and they have guys flying the zone and they took advantage of our mistakes.''
The Panthers looked flat from the start of the night as the Blue Jackets (who have now won two straight) took a 1-0 lead when RJ Umberger pounced on a rebound in front of Jose Theodore and flipped it into the net.
That goal seemed to light a spark on the Panthers who then ended the first outshooting the Jackets 15-1. Florida had a lengthy 5-on-3 power play advantage, yet rookie goalie Allen York kept Florida at bay until Tomas Kopecky made it a 3-1 game almost eight minutes into the third. Columbus' final goal came into an empty net in the final minute.
York, 22, picked up his first NHL win on Wednesday against the Red Wings after bouncing around the ECHL, AHL and NHL this season. York – who made 31 saves – has been pressed into duty because Columbus' goaltending situation is so bad with injuries to Steve Mason and Curtis Sanford that the team signed former University of Michigan walk-on Shawn Hunwick to be the backup not long after his season ended in Ann Arbor.
BACK IN C-BUS
Dineen said Columbus held a special place for him. Not only did his playing career end as a member of the Blue Jackets, but he also got his first taste of the coaching side of the game when Columbus offered him a job after he retired.
Dineen left the Blue Jackets organization in 2005 when Anaheim's Brian Burke hired him to coach the AHL Portland Pirates.
“I enjoyed many fond memories here,’’ said Dineen, who played in 129 games with Columbus. “It's always good to come back to mid-Ohio.''
Dineen was shown on the scoreboard during the second period as fans cheered, although Dineen was in no mood for such things. Florida had just been called for its second penalty for having too many men on the ice just prior.
--Dineen sat Mike Santorelli for the fifth straight game on Friday as Mikael Samuelsson and Krys Barch returned to the lineup. Jered Smithson, Marco Sturm and Keaton Ellerby – who has been scratched eight straight games – also were out.
--Defenseman Erik Gudbranson could find himself meeting with the league's Department of Player Safety after ramming Jared Boll into the boards during the second period.
Boll was slow getting up as Gudbranson went to the box for boarding.