Injuries and penalties dominated a rare matchup between the Florida Panthers and Phoenix Coyotes, but the turning point would come on a last-minute penalty shot ...
Penalties dominated the game almost from the opening puck drop, when Martin Hanzal took the first of six penalties in the first period. Surprisingly, Florida's 10th-ranked power play would come up dry, while the Coyotes finally converted on a two-man advantage in the dying seconds of the first period. Radim Vrbata moved the puck along the top of the zone to Oliver Ekman-Larsson. The Swedish defenseman found a seam through the Florida defense as time drained away, firing a hard pass to Ray Whitney at the left faceoff circle. With less than three seconds left in the period Whitney fired a perfect shot that slid along the ice and hopped over Jose Theodore as the veteran goaltender slid to attempt a save.
In the second period, the Panthers added insult to injury as Marco Sturm was lost early to an undisclosed injury, while Phoenix lost David Schlemko after he was struck in the face with a puck and collapsed to the ice, bleeding profusely.
The Panthers killed another early penalty but find themselves victim to more penalty trouble midway through the frame. With Erik Gudbranson called for a delay of game after accidentally clearing the puck over the glass in his own zone, the Coyotes power play struck again. In another bang-bang passing play, the Coyotes gained the zone late in the penalty, then Keith Yandle sent a quick pass deep into the zone for Vrbata, who fired a shot that trickled through Theodore's pads.
Despite Phoenix dominating the first 30 minutes, the Panthers cut the lead late in the period when Brian Campbell stole the puck in the offensive zone from Thomas Fleischmann with just over two minutes left. The defenseman cut through the Phoenix defense and into the slot, then blasted a shot that Mike Smith attempted to pull back out of the net, but had clearly crossed the goal line before the Phoenix netminder could make the save.
The Panthers continued their attack off the faceoff, but their slowly gathering momentum was brutally disrupted when Shane Doan delivered a hard check to Mikael Samuelsson near the boards that sent the former Canuck off balance, resulting in him slamming his head awkwardly onto the ice. Trainers were summoned immediately and spent significant time tending to him before the winger was finally able to stand and be escorted off the ice. Samuelsson did not return to the game, leaving Florida short another forward.
The third period saw Florida mount an assault on the Phoenix net, drawing an early period penalty when Michael Rozsival was whistled for a trip on Kris Versteeg. Mike Smith stopped four shots during the power play, then extended to make an attempt on a high and wide Jason Garrison shot before collapsing to the ice in obvious pain. Once Smith was able to leave the ice, Jason LaBarbera came in for the Coyotes. His team pushed hard to take the load from their backup's shoulders, dominating play in the Florida zone for almost four minutes before the Panthers were finally able to test LaBarbera with a few shots. Unable to find a tying goal, the Panthers were forced to kill another penalty with six minutes left in the period. They survived the kill and managed to keep attacking, finally forcing the Coyotes into what appeared to be a fatal error.
With less than a minute left in regulation the Panthers seemed on the verge of tying the game, moving the puck through the Phoenix zone and cycling with the extra attacker after Theodore had been called to the bench. Thomas Fleischmann fired a rising shot that rebounded off LaBarbera and into the air, but before it could potentially land behind the Phoenix netminder both Rozsival and Martin Hanzal knocked the net off of its moorings.
Referee Dean Morton ruled it had been a deliberate action by the Phoenix defenders, and due to the time, the Florida Panthers were awarded a penalty shot under Rule 25.
Stephen Weiss skated onto the ice for the shot and appeared to have beaten LaBarbera 5-hole, but the puck had been trapped in the snow built up around LaBarbera in the crease and stopped on top of the goal line without crossing.
The failed penalty shot might have been deflating for the remarkably strong crowd of 17,711, but the Panthers showed no sign of being demoralized, still valiantly attempting to find an equalizer as time ran dry.
The 2-1 game was the 14th one-goal game for the Panthers on home ice, where they are 6-2-6.