The Florida Panthers are inching toward their first division title – one point at a time.
Tomas Fleischmann scored in the first period and Scott Clemmensen made 31 saves, helping the Panthers hold off Detroit for 65 minutes before losing 2-1 in a shootout. The Red Wings came away with the victory, but Florida secured a valuable point to move three ahead of second-place Washington in the Southeast Division.
”Nothing’s been given to us this year, and that’s the fun part of it,” Panthers coach Kevin Dineen said. ”This is what we’ve been playing for – to be a big part of the conversation as we move down the stretch.”
Detroit’s Jiri Hudler scored with 14:30 remaining in the third period and again in the shootout. Pavel Datsyuk also scored in the shootout for Detroit, and Kris Versteeg missed high on Florida’s last attempt.
The Panthers play at Washington on Thursday night, but might not have to win that game to take the division. Florida also leads ninth-place Buffalo by five points in the conference standings, so the Panthers are on the verge of clinching their first playoff spot since 2000.
Five of Florida’s last six games have gone at least to overtime, and the Panthers have an NHL-high 17 losses in overtimes or shootouts.
”Obviously, we’d like to score more goals,” Florida defenseman Brian Campbell said. ”The ball is in our court. Obviously as far as the division, it’s in our hands.”
Detroit moved a point ahead of Nashville and two ahead of Chicago in the race for the No. 4 seed in the Western Conference.
”I think Florida is a good team. We knew it was going to be tight, not a whole lot of room out there,” Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said. ”They did a good job through the neutral zone and I thought they were tenacious.”
Florida has never won a division title. The franchise’s best postseason performance came in 1996, when the Panthers were swept by Colorado in the Stanley Cup finals.
Fleischmann opened the scoring late in the first with his 26th goal of the season, beating goalie Jimmy Howard from the top of the circle on the right wing.
The Red Wings tied it on Hudler’s shot from over by the boards at a tough angle to goalie Scott Clemmensen’s left. The puck appeared to deflect off the stick of the Panthers’ John Madden before slipping past Clemmensen.
Eight seconds after the tying goal, Detroit’s Kyle Quincey was given a major penalty and a game misconduct for elbowing. Florida’s Tomas Kopecky was doubled over as he left the ice after the play.
”He just elbowed me in the face,” Kopecky said. ”I thought that was the kind of thing we want to eliminate from the game.”
Kopecky was able to return.
”I’m real happy he wasn’t hurt on the play. I just tried to make a good body check,” Quincey said. ”I don’t know if he slipped, but I think he was falling when I went to hit him and his head hit me in the hip or like low here (on the forearm).”
The Panthers couldn’t take advantage of the power play, which was shortened when Dmitry Kulikov was called for tripping in the middle of it.
Datsyuk and Florida’s Wojtek Wolski scored to open the shootout, and Hudler put Detroit ahead with his goal. Mikael Samuelsson’s backhand attempt was denied, Todd Bertuzzi failed to convert for the Red Wings, and Versteeg missed to end it.
Notes: In the third period, Datsyuk flipped puck over the back of the net as if trying to bounce it off Clemmensen’s back and in. The tricky move didn’t work, but the crowd roared its approval anyway. … Hudler’s goal was his 25th of the season. … Howard had 27 saves.