COLUMBUS, Ohio — It was a road trip that started with such promise, but ended in such misery.
After storming back from two, two-goal deficits to beat the Red Wings 5-4 in a shootout last Sunday, another Panthers’ meager comeback attempt fell short in a 4-1 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets today at Nationwide Arena.
The suddenly sieve-like Panthers were outscored 16-6 in three straight losses to the Bruins, Maple Leafs and Blue Jackets, all Eastern Conference foes far in front of the 15th-place Panthers.
The Panthers ended a tough stretch of seven of eight games on the road at 3-5 with three more games remaining before the 20-day Olympic break.
The Panthers would love to say Goodbye Columbus for good as they’ve lost six straight to the Jackets (0-4-2) with their last win coming in Buckeye country on Nov. 21, 2007.
It didn’t help that they ran into a hot goaltender in Sergei Bobrovsky, who made several spectacular saves (35) en route to his 11th win in his last 13 starts. His net counterpart, Tim Thomas, had his second straight subpar outing, giving up four goals, including three softies, on 30 shots.
“I thought our (scoring) chances were better,” Panthers coach Peter Horachek said. “We didn’t capitalize on our chances, they did. We didn’t really get a save. Trying to play catch-up hockey is difficult.
“Going 1-3 makes it tough, because it’s a results industry. We got to get wins. The guys had effort tonight. Normally, three of those goals don’t go in and we’re in a different situation. You can’t go with normally.”
Trailing 2-0 after one, the Panthers pushed back in the second period. After a great shift by the fourth-line trio of Jimmy Hayes, Shawn Matthias and a demoted Jonathan Huberdeau, the Panthers poured it on until Brad Boyes’ flick-shot from the left dot caromed off of Jackets’ defender David Savard to cut the deficit to 2-1 at 7:41 of the second period.
“We pushed back, created a lot of chances,” said Boyes, who potted his team-leading 15th goal and third in his past four games. “We just didn’t score and they did, that was the difference. It was a better effort, but we’re getting to the part of the season we got to get results and get a point.”
The Panthers have been starting and finishing periods poorly lately as Jackets winger Nick Foligno beat Thomas with an unscreened wrister at 17:46 for a 3-1 hole after two.
A mix-up by Brian Campbell and Nick Bjugstad in front of Thomas allowed the puck to find Mark Letestu for another gift-wrapped goal at 9:28 of the third to set off the deafening Civil War cannon blast.
Just 50 seconds after a spirited, yet failed Panthers’ power play, Ryan Johansen took off on a 2-on-1 break. A diving Thomas smothered the puck but it squibbed out to Boone Jenner, who tucked it in at 15:33 of the first.
Panthers top-line rookie center Aleksander Barkov, who missed the previous four games with a minor knee injury, was on the ice for both first-period goals.
“I can’t afford that. The team needs me to keep us as close as possible,” Thomas said. “We’re a little bit of a fragile team right now and that was terrible timing. From my end, it felt awful.”
The Blue Jackets’ newly formed top line struck again at 18:02 on another odd-man rush in which Jenner spun around with a backhander that Thomas thought was a shot. Instead, it was a perfect pass on Johansen’s blade for a tap-in and the 21-year-old’s 22nd goal.
Old friend Nathan Horton, who notched five 20-goal seasons for the Panthers in the first six years of his 10-year career, notched secondary assists on both goals.
Shore back to AHL
To make room for Barkov on their 23-man roster, the Panthers sent improving forward Drew Shore back to San Antonio.
Shore, who’s still on an entry-level contract and didn’t have to clear waivers, has all five of his points, including four goals, in his last nine games, while contributing on the penalty kill.
The Panthers wanted to beat a games-played quota so that Shore could play during the Olympic break.