After finishing 2011 on a bit of a sour note, the Florida Panthers looked to kick off their surprising season with a better 2012. Their first week of the New Year would see them face the New York Rangers and the New Jersey Devils on back-to-back nights after a well needed 4 days off. Unfortunately, the Panthers did not get the start which they had hoped for and instead fell flat on their face.

 

The Panthers not only wanted to start the New Year off the same way they saw it close – with a win, but they also wanted to get revenge on the Rangers who have won the past two meetings between the clubs including a 4-1 victory on December 30th.

 

After Jose Theodore fell to injury during the Panthers victory over the Canadians on New Year’s Eve Scott Clemmensen started the game for the Panthers, and Jacob Markstrom took over the backup position. Also, the Panthers were receiving even more help as Marcel Goc and Mikael Samuelsson would make their return to the lineup after missing 22 and 20 games
respectively due to injury.

 

Both Goc and Samuelsson hoped to make good impressions early and they did just that, as they broke out of the Panthers zone on a 2-on-1 early in the first, and made several passes back and forth before Goc sent a wrist shot past Rangers netminder Martin Biron for the 1-0 just 4:16 into the game. The goal was Goc’s third of the season. The Rangers would tie the game before the end of the period as Anton Stralman took a shot which somehow found its way through traffic and past Scott Clemmensen for the equalizer.

 

After no score in the second period, the Rangers would strike first in the third. On the powerplay, Brad Richards shot from the point went off Panthers defenseman Mike Weaver, and then Ryan Callahan in front of
Clemmensen for the 2-1 lead. The Panthers were not going to let this one get away as they tied it up just over 30 seconds later thanks to Mike Santorelli.  Santorelli picked up a pass from Brian Campbell, entered the Rangers zone, rushed the net, and snapped a shot high over the shoulder of Biron for the goal.

 

The game went to overtime and at the 3:29 mark, Marian Gaborik beat Scott Clemmensen with a slap shot for his 23rd of the season and the game winner.

 

Clemmensen turned away 38 shots in the loss, as the 41 shots were the most by the Rangers in one game all season. Biron turned away 19 pucks for the victory.

 

The game was much disciplined as the referees only handed out four minor penalties all night. Two of those penalties were too many men on the ice by the Florida Panthers, with both coming in the third period.

 

With no time to lick their wounds, the Cats were right back at it Friday night in New Jersey against the Devils.

 

Jacob Markstrom made his first start since November as Scott Clemmensen was given the night off after his great performance Thursday night.

 

As per usual, Markstrom give up an early goal before settling in. Adam Henrique scored just 3:53 into the game to give the Devils the early lead. But, it would not last long as Mikael Samuelsson scored just four minutes later to tie the game at one. Samuelsson’s goal was his first since returning from injury, and first as a Panther.

 

Patrik Elias got things going early for the Devils in the second as he beat Markstrom just 36 seconds into the period. Krystofer Barch would then beat Devils goaltender Johan Hedberg at 2:46 of the period with a snapshot which found its way to the back of the net. The goal would come one game after Barch sat out due to a suspension. Brian Campbell would also pick up his 30th assist of the season on the goal.

 

Ilya Kovalchuk would get his 13th goal of the season at the 11:40 mark of the third period, as he tipped Patrik Elias’ shot past Markstrom for the go ahead goal. But, unlike the first two times, the Panthers would not recover from the deficit. Florida would pull Markstrom in favor of the extra attacker while on the powerplay for the 6 on 4 advantage, but plans would backfire on them as Ilya Kovalchuk fired the puck into the yawning cage for the 4-2 lead with one minute remaining in the period. Florida would again pull Markstrom as they tried for one more late push, but things went sour again as Zack Parise also scored on the empty net 20 second later for the 5-2 Devils lead which would be the final score.

 

Markstrom turned away 24 saves in a losing effort, while Johan Hedberg made 22 for the victory.

 

Despite the loss, after the game Panthers management expressed their pleasure in Markstrom’s play, mentioning how he managed to keep himself composed and make key saves despite letting in a goal early, and
keeping his team in the game even when the team appeared to sit back a bit, allowing the Panthers to come close to putting out a late comeback.

 

“Markstrom came in and played very well,” said Panthers assistant coach Gord Murphy. “He gave us a chance to win the game and made some huge saves for us. He looked very confident and comfortable in the net. We have a lot of confidence in him.”

 

Fellow Panthers netminder Scott Clemmensen also had nothing by praise for the young 21-year old goaltender, “He’s a good kid, and he works hard at it. He was here when I was hurt earlier this year. The goalies have a good rapport with each other, all three of us, and well as the other goalies in the system. Its important goalies support each other, and it’s good to see him get opportunities here.”

 

Things appear to only get harder for the Panthers as they open a tough 3-game homestand starting tonight against the Vancouver Canucks, followed by the Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday, and the defending Stanley Cup
champions Boston Bruins next Monday.

 

 

Adam Reid

Adam_mapleleafs@hotmail.com