SUNRISE, Fla. – When told how bad the Florida Panthers' offensive performance looked Saturday night against the Buffalo Sabres, defenseman Ed Jovanovski looked at the writer, smiled and asked, "Was it that bad?"
Jovanovski was correct in that Florida "had spurts" in the Panthers' 7-round 3-2 shootout win over the Sabres, but those were rare. The Cats were economical on offense, scoring on its first two shots on goal, but the first one didn't come until over 17 minutes into the game on Mikael Samuelsson's power-play tally. John Madden added his second goal this season -- and second in as many games -- 38 seconds later.
Then the ugliness began. While Florida (35-23-13) rattled off 12 shots in the second, none beat Buffalo's Ryan Miller. The third period and overtime were woefully atrocious offensively, though Florida's defense did hold the Sabres to only four shots -- not the hockey that endears itself to highlights on NHL Tonight. Other than Buffalo's 3-on-1 breakout in the third, which was broken up by a sliding Mike Weaver, not much happened when a player had the puck on his stick.
Florida eked out a season-low 17 shots on goal, including just one in the 25 minutes that made up the third period and overtime. The number broke the previous low of 19 in a 4-1 win over the Islanders Feb. 12.
"Not every game is going to go as drawn up," Madden said. "Sometimes the shot clock doesn't always show the truth. We had the zone time, we passed up some shots for whatever reason...(but) you take the good out of this game and keep moving forward."
And the good ultimately outweighed the bad. Goalie Jose Theodore, making his seventh consecutive start, ran his recent record to 5-1-1 by doing something Florida hasn't done much all season: Winning a shootout. After giving up Tyler Ennis's tying goal in the second round, which matched Wojtek Wolski's, Theodore was brilliant against Jason Pominville (45.5 shootout percentage this year), Cody Hodgson (42.9 career), Brad Boyes (46.8 career), Derek Roy (35.7 career) and Drew Stafford (31.3 career). Theodore stopped six of the seven shootout attempts in the win.
"It was a great two points for us. Theo was again the best player out there who gave us a chance to get that extra point," Jovanovski said.
Playing in his first game since January, Dmitry Kulikov admitted he was "a little lucky" on his game-winning goal after flipping a backhander past Miller. The Russian defenseman, who missed 23 games with a knee injury, is 2-for-3 in shootouts with a pair of game-winners, but he quickly pointed to Theodore's play, particularly on the game-saving stop against Stafford to end it.
"We have confidence in Theo that he'd make that save. He's a good goalie," Kulikov said, simply.
A teacher giving the Panthers a grade for Saturday's performance might have been generous and handed out a C-, but some of the ones I had in high school would likely have written D in a giant red scrawl -- truly my scarlet letter. I'd have then been begging for an extra credit assignment on some current event or former president.
These Panthers didn't need extra credit, just extra time. Florida didn't bring its A game like it did against the Bruins two nights earlier, stole one point by taking the game to OT, then added thievery by getting another with spectacular goaltending and a big-time play from a key player making his return to the lineup.
That's what good teams do: Win when they don't play their best.By Bill WhiteheadFlorida Panthers Credentialed CorrespondentHockey ColumnistTwitter: @BillWhiteheadFLEmail: BillWhiteheadFL@hotmail.comPhoto credit: Getty Images