Oil­ers star roams free as Pan­thers fall in shootout

Miami Herald - - SPORTS - BY STEVEN SANDOR Special to the Mi­ami Her­ald

The Pan­thers could look back at the video of Thurs­day night’s game in Ed­mon­ton and be a happy about a lot of things.

They held the Oil­ers to just 18 shots through three pe­ri­ods of reg­u­la­tion hockey. Frank Va­trano scored the opener, so, for the first time in eight games, the Pan­thers didn’t sur­ren­der the first goal of the game.

The Pan­thers were down two men for nearly a minute in the se­cond pe­riod and held the Oil­ers with­out a shot.

Yet, they lost the game 4-3 in a shootout, with Ryan Nu­gent-Hop­kins and Con­nor McDavid both beat­ing Pan­thers goalie James Reimer in the break­away com­pe­ti­tion for the Pan­thers’ fourth loss in a row.

Why? Be­cause, at two crit­i­cal junc­tures, McDavid, win­ner of the past two NHL scor­ing ti­tles, was left open. Leav­ing McDavid that open is like de­cid­ing not to guard LeBron James, or de­cid­ing, “Nah, we don’t need to put any pres­sure on Tom Brady.”

McDavid’s first goal tied the score 2-2 with just 22 sec­onds left in the se­cond pe­riod. A point shot hit a cou­ple of bod­ies in front and the puck car­omed to McDavid, who scored the goal.

“It just ping-pongs off of bod­ies and sud­denly it’s in the net,” Reimer said. “That’s what hap­pens. That’s why coaches tell you to shoot pucks and go to the net.”

After Hen­rik Borgstrom’s third-pe­riod cen­ter­ing pass hit Oil­ers de­fense­men Caleb Jones and Adam Lars­son and bounded into the net, the Pan­thers held a 3-2 lead head­ing home. But, there was McDavid, alone in front of the net, to bang home the ty­ing goal with just eight sec­onds left.

Pan­thers de­fense­men Aaron Ek­blad and Mike Math­e­son weren’t near the scene of the crime.

“[McDavid] was their game tonight, he was all their of­fense again,” Pan­thers coach Bob Bough­ner said. “It seems like he does it to ev­ery team ev­ery night. That’s what great play­ers do. You don’t no­tice them and then they end up with three or four points ev­ery night.”

The Pan­thers got a loser point for drop­ping the 4-3 de­ci­sion in the shootout, but the gap be­tween Florida and eighth spot in the Eastern Con­fer­ence — which rep­re­sents the fi­nal play­off spot — is at 10 points. At some point, this team has to turn good ef­forts into two-point nights.

“I feel bad for the guys, be­cause I thought they worked hard, I thought they re­sponded,” Bough­ner said. “We got con­tri­bu­tions through­out the lineup, but we didn’t find a way to win. We talked about that yes­ter­day, find­ing ways to win games.”

On Thurs­day, they lost to a team that had lost five in a row at home. On Fri­day, they head three hours down the high­way to face the Cal­gary Flames, own­ers of the best record in the Western Con­fer­ence.

De­nis Mal­gin, who put the Pan­thers up 2-1 with a wrist shot from the slot, said he and his team­mates will need to have short mem­o­ries when they play the Flames on Fri­day.

“We had a good game, we had the lead and with eight sec­onds left we get scored on,” he said. “It’s hard think we have to for­get this game and fo­cus on [Fri­day]. We scored first and that was huge for us. We talked about hav­ing a good start, and we’ve done it. But in the end, we lost again. We have to find a way to win.”

Not hit­ting the self-de­struct but­ton would be a start.

THE CANA­DIAN PRESS VIA AP Ja­son Fran­son

Pan­thers’ goalie James Reimer makes the stop as the Oil­ers’ Con­nor McDavid looks for the re­bound.

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