The Jackets and Panthers are well-matched, with both teams playing a gritty, hard-working style. The previous two games between these two clubs were one-goal victories for the Jackets, and they were looking to sweep the season series tonight in Sunrise.
It was Curtis McElhinney opposite Roberto Luongo between the pipes, and both goalies were tested early and often. The pace of the game was quite fast, with lots of end-to-end action.
Corey Tropp, seeing time on a scoring line with Jeremy Morin out, was doing some nice things around the Florida net early in the period. His hard work behind the net and along the boards led to some early chances for linemates Brandon Dubinsky and Scott Hartnell.
The first great chance for the Jackets was a partial breakaway by Mark Letestu, but Luongo came up with the big save to keep the score tied at doughnuts. Matt Calvert played on the fourth line with Letestu and Jared Boll, and I really liked what I saw from the Calvert-Letestu duo. Both players work their holes off, and have speed to burn. This is a combination I'd like to see stick together moving forward. Inserting Jack Skille (a healthy scratch tonight) on the other wing instead of Boll would make for a fast, tenacious fourth line with more skill than your average fourth line.
With 8:23 left in the opening period, Hartnell was sent to the box after he chopped Aaron Ekblad's stick in half. It was a strange sequence- a few seconds earlier Hartnell had just applied a hard hit to Ekblad, so something must have been said to Hartnell to set him off. That, or maybe Hartnell just wanted to get under the rookie's skin, a very real possibility. The Jackets killed off the penalty, with McElhinney making four key saves.
Florida maintained offensive pressure after the penalty, and forced the Jackets into making mistakes. Columbus would go back on the kill later in the period when Ryan Johansen was whistled for a slash after getting beat in the neutral zone. The best chance for either team was a great shorthanded chance by Dubinsky, but Luongo was there to shut the door.
The second period did not have the same flow as the first, but the Jackets were able to open the scoring early. The Jackets entered the Florida zone, with Nick Foligno dropping the puck back to Jack Johnson. Johnson passed it to Cam Atkinson, who immediately returned the puck to Johnson for a one-timer, which beat Luongo.
1-0 Jackets: Jack Johnson - Cam Atkinson, Nick Foligno
Less than two minutes later though, the Panthers would tie the game. After some hard work by Jonathan Huberdeau, Brad Boyes gathered the puck and fed Huberdeau out front, who's shot beat McElhinney.
1-1: Jonathan Huberdeau - Brad Boyes, Aleksander Barkov
The Panthers continued to press. Ekblad (man, is he great) split the defense on a breakaway, and almost beat McElhinney. Given Ekblad's age and position, he's my favorite for the Calder Trophy.
The Jackets were sloppy at times in the second period, with the Panthers getting yet another great chance off a pick-off by Brandon Pirri. McElhinney was forced to make another big save to maintain the tie game.
The sloppy play finally bit the visitors in the ass, with Ekblad giving his team the lead with a wrister from the point. McElhinney was not ready for the shot, as he was a bit out of sorts after losing his stick.
2-1 Panthers: Aaron Ekblad - Brian Campbell, Dave Bolland
Less than a minute later, James Wisniewski and Sean Bergenheim were given matching slashing penalties, but Bergenheim's protests earned him an extra penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct and a misconduct. Bergenheim would have plenty of time to get rested, before returning to the game midway through the third period. The CBJ had no joy on the powerplay.
With less than 90 seconds in the period, the Jackets would tie the game. Artem Anisimov, in his first game back from injury, made a nice play to Luongo's left. He flipped the puck in the air to Alexander Wennberg, who bunted the puck into the net for his second goal of the season. The goal was reviewed, but it was determined that Wennberg made contact below the crossbar.
2-2: Alexander Wennberg - Artem Anisimov, Josh Anderson
The secondary assist was Anderson's first NHL point.
The Jackets were given a late powerplay, which carried over to the third period. Following Ray Ferraro's theory of teams rarely scoring when they start a period on the powerplay, the Jackets could not solve Luongo.
The sloppy play by Columbus returned early in the third. There were a handful of turnovers, and passes were not going stick-to-stick. This would continue for most of the period, until the Panthers finally broke through to take the lead on a somewhat controversial goal. Dmitry Kulikov fired a puck on-net, where the fully-rested Bergenheim was parked. He redirected the Kulikov shot, seemingly over the bar, beating McElhinney. He took a shot to the chops by Johnson as he did it. The goal was reviewed and deemed a good goal, and because of this Johnson's double-minor was reduced to a single two-minute powerplay, which the Jackets were able to kill.
3-2 Panthers: Sean Bergenheim - Dmitry Kulikov, Alex Petrovic
McElhinney was pulled with about 90 seconds left, and though they had their chances, the Jackets couldn't tie the game.
FINAL SCORE: 3-2 Panthers
- Aaron Ekblad, man. The kid is a stud in every sense of the word.
- Curtis McElhinney played well, despite a lack of help in front of him.
- Congrats to Wennberg for finally finding the back of the net again, and another congrats to Anderson for his first NHL point.
- The Jackets as a team were sloppy, and it cost them the game.
- Columbus needs to do better in the faceoff circle.
For the advanced stats for this game, be sure to check out War on Ice.
The Jackets complete their Florida road trip on Saturday against the Lightning.