The Panthers entered the game third in the Central Division by points (with 34) and by points percentage (.708). The Panthers are buoyed by goaltender Chris Driedger, who has been strong this season, sporting a 2.25 goals against average and a .926 save percentage for the year. He is part of a tandem with former Blue Jacket Sergei Bobrvosky, the man who took the net for Florida in the first game, who has been less successful than Driedger - Bob has gone 8-2-2 this season, but sports just a .900 save percentage and a 3.02 goals against average.
After a hard spill that required him to leave the ice yesterday, Patrik Laine was fine to play in the game. In addition, Elvis Merzlikins was activated but Joonas Korpisalo was the man who got the start in net.
#CBJ lines/pairs:— Mark Scheig (@markscheig) March 9, 2021
Here’s what happened.
Florida started on the front foot with Zach Werenski being forced to make a save off the goal line after Korpisalo got beat just seconds into the game. Not the most auspicious start for the home squad. Two minutes into the game, the bad start got worse as David Savard was sent to the box for tripping Sasha Barkov. Columbus killed the penalty - Florida had a chance but Korpisalo made an absolutely unreal save, and Cam sent a shorthanded chance wide of the net.
Florida was the first team to capitalize, taking advantage of their strong start. Juho Lammikko sent an innocent backhander toward Korpisalo that the goaltender just biffed. No excuse for letting that one in.
Florida goal (0-1): Lammikko from Weegar, 4:59
After a strong couple minutes from Florida, Nick Foligno was called for an interference penalty at 7:27 in the offensive zone. Just an absolutely awful start for the hometown team.
Cam Atkinson knocked a pass down and had a breakaway, but Sergei Bobrovsky was equal to it while Florida was on the power play. A strong kill led to Eric Robinson forcing a turnover and earning a tripping call, nullifying Florida’s power play and earning 27 seconds of a 4 on 4. In injury news, Barkov went down the tunnel for the Panthers to get checked out after an early injury.
Florida killed the Columbus power play, turning aside Laine and Atkinson late in the proceedings. Also, Barkov returned to the ice with eight minutes remaining in the period, apparently able to carry on from the earlier injury scare. Columbus found their footing with five minutes remaining, as Laine and Max Domi were both turned away on consecutive shifts by Bobrovsky.
After some end to end action late in the period, Carter Verhaege went to the penalty box with 10.9 seconds remaining for delay of game. The period ended with Florida leading 1-0 on the scoreboard. Columbus led in shots on goal 16-15.
Columbus opened the period with 1:50 of power play time. Columbus, naturally, was unable to set up in the offensive zone with possession and Florida killed the penalty. Seconds later, Kevin Stenlund was boxed for hooking Noel Acciari. On the power play, Aaron Ekblad let a big slap shot go and it beat Korpisalo short side after taking a deflection from Patric Hornqvist.
Florida goal (0-2): Hornqvist from Ekblad and Huberdeau, 2:45
Just over two minutes later, Acciari stole a Seth Jones pass and walked in but Korpisalo was able to rob Florida from taking a 3-0 lead just under five minutes into the second period.
On a breakout play, Alexandre Texier hit Eric Robinson in stride and Robinson carried the puck into the zone. Robinson turned and found the trailing Michael Del Zotto and he beat Sergei Bobrovsky to get Columbus back into the game.
Columbus goal (1-2): Del Zotto from Robinson and Texier, 5:45
Great breakout and feed by Texier on a tape to tape pass. Amazing what a controlled breakout and entry can lead to. With 10:46 remaining, Alexandre Texier fed a pass from below the goal line to Kevin Stenlund who hit the goalpost with his effort. A near miss from tying the game for the Blue Jackets. With 8:45 remaining, Korpisalo was beaten by the Panthers, but a diving stop was able to knock the puck away after it trickled past him. On the next shift, Jonathan Huberdeau was turned aside at the edge of the net, Columbus surviving a siege in their defensive zone by the Panthers.
Korpisalo started slowly with a bad goal allowed, but he’s the only reason this team had a chance in this one.
With 3:38 remaining, Riley Nash took a penalty for hooking, sending Florida back on the power play. Florida was able to take advantage of the penalty, with Owen Tippett putting the puck past Korpisalo with 1:48 remaining. Tortorella reviewed the play for a good amount of time, but decided against challenging the goal.
Florida goal (1-3): Tippett from Forsling and Wennberg, 18:12
At the end of the second, Florida led 3-1 on the scoreboard and 29-25 in shots.
Cam Atkinson and Nick Foligno combined for a chance, but Foligno could not contain the puck and lost a chance to take a shot at a wide open net with 3:25 gone in the third. Missed opportunity for the home squad. All Foligno had to do was guide the puck into a gaping cage and he somehow put it wide.
Through the middle part of the period, the teams traded neutral zone possession and half chances but neither team truly threatened as they crossed the halfway mark of the third period.
Huberdeau lost a battle on the boards and turned the puck over to Zach Werenski. Werenski found Oliver Bjorkstrand cutting through the zone in front of Bobrovsky and he deflected the pass beyond the Florida netminder.
Columbus goal (2-3): Bjorkstrand from Werenski, 11:38
Much needed life for Columbus.
Down the stretch, Columbus was able to generate several chances before earning a power play with 3:01 remaining as Ekblad held Nick Foligno. Korpisalo left for a 6 on 4 with 2:26 remaining. Patrik Laine let three solid blasts go, but Bobrovsky was equal to the task every time. Florida banged home an empty meter with 22.4 remaining, and that’d do it.
Florida goal (2-4): Verhaege, 19:37
Florida Panthers 4 Columbus Blue Jackets 2
I’ve been more critical than Korpi of most, and while he allowed a pillow soft goal in the first, he’s the literal only reason this game wasn’t worse. The skaters have were extremely bad in this one. Savard and Gavrikov have been godawful for much of the season and that trend continued. 50-42-11 dominated the second period, just like we all predicted. Laine and Nash were invisible like we all saw coming a mile away, Cam was good in the first, invisible in the second. There’s no cohesion and no plan from the coaching staff dealing with the skaters.
Korpisalo’s effort deserved better.
Stick taps to Wennberg and Nutivaara getting welcomed back to Columbus with fans in the building. Good to see familiar faces stop by.
Wennberg scored a power play point against Columbus. Of course he did.
In calendar year 2021, there is no excuse for playing Riley Nash with Patrik Laine. It’s a horrific tactical decision that has no basis in reality. Nash is not a good enough skater, passer, or puck handler to benefit that line. It allows a center to sag defensive responsibility toward one of the two wings because they know Nash isn’t good enough to punish them. It’s not a smart tactical decision - it screams of desperation from a coaching staff out of answers.
Oliver Bjorkstrand is the best forward on this roster right now. I don’t even think it’s up for debate at this point. He’s the most talented finisher, the most creative passer, the one with the best feel for where to be in the offensive zone to take advantage of passing lanes and space left open by defenders - he just has an awareness other guys don’t possess, and the talent to take advantage of that awareness. He’s a guy the team is lucky to have, and there’s no excuse for him not to be playing the most minutes at 5v5 among forward ona night in and night out basis.
Columbus played well but they didn’t get it done. JLGP praised the effort, but with the season so late and the upcoming slate of opponents, effort isn’t good enough. Columbus needs to string together points and results to even have a prayer at the playoff race that the coaching staff and player leadership preaches they are in at this point. Gotta figure out a way to get 5 of the next 6 points on this homestand or it’s basically over.
The Blue Jackets and Panthers finish off their two game set Thursday evening in Nationwide Arena. Faceoff is set for 7:00 PM.