Gilbert, Kopecky lift Panthers to 5th straight win

The Florida Panthers have found their comfort zone far away from

the warmth of the Sunshine State.

Tom Gilbert and Tomas Kopecky scored in the final three minutes,

and the Panthers topped the Ottawa Senators 4-2 on Thursday night

for their fifth straight win.

Gilbert beat Craig Anderson with a one-timer off a pass from

Tomas Fleischmann with 2:32 left and only two seconds remaining in

a high-sticking penalty to Senators forward Jean-Gabriel

Pageau.

Then, with the Senators on a power play, Erik Karlsson fell in

the Panthers’ zone, allowing Kopecky to break out on a 2-on-1 rush.

He elected to shoot, and beat Anderson with 1:41 remaining.

Jimmy Hayes, in the first period, and Aleksander Barkov, in the

second, also scored for the Panthers (14-17-5), who got 32 saves

from Scott Clemmensen.

”It was a good effort by everyone and a good road game for

us,” Clemmensen said. ”We had a game plan and we stuck with it.

This team is playing with a lot of confidence right now.

”We went down in the first but we stuck to it and believed in

the game plan, and that’s probably the biggest difference between

now and the beginning of the year.”

The Panthers won just three of their first 16 games and it cost

coach Kevin Dineen his job. Peter Horachek took over and sustained

a 3-2 loss at Ottawa on Nov. 9.

That marked the last time the Senators have won consecutive

games.

”At that point I was just opening the doors,” Horachek said.

”I was just telling them how I feel the team should play, and I

think they wanted to play hard with a new coach. The structure and

the confidence wasn’t there, and now the guys know they are capable

of winning in whatever building they are in.

”We have to play our game and not bend around and see how other

teams are going to play.”

Chris Neil and Jason Spezza scored for the Senators (14-17-6),

who have lost two straight and three of four.

”We just didn’t do enough to win. We got too passive and found

a way to lose,” Spezza said. ”It’s clear we’re feeling pressure

now and we’re feeling the heat. We’re trying to win hockey games,

and the effort is there, but we don’t execute.

”We don’t play loose enough with the puck and we’re making

mistakes at the end. That’s the position we’ve got ourselves in and

we have to find a way to get out because no one is going to give us

any help.”

Both teams took turns taking and giving away the lead through

the first two periods, starting with the Panthers.

Hayes opened the scoring with his fourth goal when he beat

Anderson from the right hash mark at 5:39 of the first period.

After a review to see if the puck was kicked in, Neil was

credited with the tying goal at 9:17 of the period. Clarke

MacArthur took the original shot, but after Clemmensen made the

save, the puck bounced in of Neil’s skate for his fifth goal.

The Senators took the lead in the final minute of the period

when Spezza made a sensational play, first getting the puck around

Panthers defenseman Dylan Olsen at the faceoff circle and then

beating Clemmensen high and on the short side with very little

space.

It was Spezza’s 11th goal of the season and first in 13

games.

Barkov tied it for the Panthers at 17:11 of the second period

with his sixth of the season. He redirected Gilbert’s shot past

Anderson.

The Senators were also forced to play the final two periods

without forward Mika Zibanejad who left after only five shifts and

2:38 of ice time because of an upper-body injury.

NOTES: Defensemen Patrick Wiercioch and Eric Cryba, along with

forward Cory Conacher, sat out for the Senators. Defenseman Mike

Mottau and forward Scott Gomez were scratched by the Panthers. …

The Senators have allowed an NHL-high 42 first-period goals.

Entering play Thursday, Ottawa had the most penalty minutes in the

league with 164. The Senators were 24th with a 78.9 percent

efficiency on the penalty kill.