Panthers continue to fight adversity to stay in playoff hunt
SUNRISE, Fla. -- The Florida Panthers might want to consider changing their logo to a black cat after a recent string of bad luck has put the team's once-promising season in jeopardy.
Already without their most valuable player in starting goaltender Roberto Luongo for at least two games, the Panthers mettle was further tested on Thursday night as a flu bug ravaged the locker room prior to a crucial meeting with the Dallas Stars.
Three players called in sick while four others were forced to play through immense fatigue and queasiness as the shorthanded Panthers erased an early 2-0 deficit to salvage a much-needed point in a 4-3 shootout loss to the visiting Stars.
"I'm not one for making excuses but it didn't look too good with guys showing up sick, others not coming in,'' Gallant said. "Four guys played pretty sick. We battled hard, played hard, came back from being down 2-0. We got a point."
In an effort to contain the virus, the Panthers have cancelled Friday's regularly scheduled practice and plan to sterilize the entire locker room at the BB&T Center.
As of right now, Willie Mitchell, Erik Gudbranson, Jaromir Jagr and Shawn Thornton are all known to be suffering from varying degrees of illness while four others remain unidentified.
Still, Panthers skaters refused to use any sort of ailment as an excuse as to why the team coughed up a late 3-2 lead while only mustering two shots in an underwhelming third period.
"Everybody goes through some adversity during the season," said Thornton, asking reporters to keep their distance while looking visibly bilious. "It's unfortunate it's hitting us now when we're in this crunch stage, but every team goes through it. Teams we're battling against go through it too.
"There's no excuses, we've got to figure out ways to win games instead of giving away points."
In the face of this mounting adversity, the Panthers fortunately found some relief as recently recalled goaltender Dan Ellis made the most of his opportunity filling in for Luongo in the first of what the team hopes will be only two stopgap starts.
In his first NHL start since April 8, 2014, Ellis stopped 29 of 32 shots despite playing behind a depleted defense. He was 0-5-0 with a 4.81 goals-against average and .836 save percentage in six appearances with Florida last season.
"I thought there'd be a little bit of nerves, but honestly maybe playing against my old team and stuff like that, having some friends on the team probably helps," said Ellis, who was traded from Dallas to Florida on March 5, 2013.
"It seems like every time I change teams I always play the old team that I came from. I felt good in there. I would have liked to get the second point, but getting one and trying to help a little bit from that perspective is a positive."
Like Ellis, the Panthers continue to maintain a positive outlook as the team is forced to begrudgingly roll with the punches at a most inopportune time. Their will has certainly been tested, but confidence in their depth gives them hope.
"It's a tough break," said Bjugstad. "We've been pretty fortunate with injuries for the whole year. It's a tough deal, but obviously you've got to stay positive. We had some good guys that came in and helped us out tonight.
"You've gotta have guys that step up. I felt, for the most part, our team did that tonight. We just didn't find a way to win there at the end."
By earning a point against Dallas, Florida kept pace with the Boston Bruins, who also lost in a shootout on Thursday, and remain two points out of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
Given the unfortunate circumstances surrounding Thursday night's game, most teams would have been content to escape with one point and live to fight another day.
With only 17 games remaining to overtake Boston, however, the Panthers were far from satisfied.
"I'm not satisfied with the one point," said Bjugstad. "We're not satisfied with it, but we'll take it. Hopefully guys get well and they're back soon."