EDMONTON, AB - Benoit Pouliot pulled the Oilers within one in the third period, but the visiting Florida Panthers eventually closed out a 4-2 victory at Rexall Place.
“I think our biggest thing was two things,” Oilers Interim Coach Todd Nelson said. “It was our lack of execution and turning the puck over. I think it was very evident, especially in the first period, we had the puck on our tape and we didn’t execute a play or we over skated it or something like that. That was the biggest thing, the turnovers and lack of execution.”
At 4:01 of the first period, the Panthers took a 1-0 lead. Nick Bjugstad centred a pass in the slot for Jimmy Hayes. The winger pumped the brakes, spun, settled the puck and then shot it past Ben Scrivens. Jussi Jokinen recorded the second assist.
The Oilers seemed to wake up in the first period’s final three minutes, with the line of Matt Fraser, Anton Lander and Teddy Purcell logging some offensive zone time. However, they’d head into the locker room down by one after 20 minutes.
In the second, the Oilers potted the equalizer at 4:07. Roberto Luongo dropped the puck and Oilers winger Taylor Hall crashed the net, creating some chaos. Jordan Eberle eventually buried the loose puck for the 1-1 tie. Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins tallied the helpers. Hall’s assist was the 150th of his NHL career.
“I thought the whole third period we pushed. Even when we found a way to make it 3-2 right after they scored, we got the momentum back,” Eberle said. “I thought we had some chances to bury. Obviously, I felt like we were going to come back then a couple of turnovers ended up in the back of our net.”
Florida took a 2-1 lead at 6:55, when Brian Campbell floated a shot from long distance past Scrivens. Aaron Ekblad and Jokinen had the assists.
Tomas Kopecky put Florida up 3-1 at 5:08 of the third period. Derek MacKenzie set him up with a centring pass from behind the Oilers net. Scottie Upshall recorded the second assist.
The Oilers responded quickly, at 5:40. Derek Roy’s shot rebounded off Luongo and out into the slot. Benoit Pouliot scooped it up and scored, cutting the Panthers lead to one. Nikita Nikitin also recorded an assist on the score.
“We talked about it before the game,” Luongo said. “They’ve been playing well lately and it was going to be a tough game. There are no easy games for our team in this league. If we want to win, we’ve got to come to play. That’s just the bottom line, it doesn’t matter who we play. We knew it was going to be a tough match and we responded.”
With about six minutes remaining, the Oilers crashed the net after a Luongo save, hunting and hoping for a rebound. A scrum ensued as the Oilers appeared to be gaining traction, still trailing.
Sean Bergenheim put the game away, cooling any Oilers momentum, by pushing the puck through the legs of Scrivens at 15:27 of the final frame. Tomas Fleischmann got the assist as Florida took a 4-2 lead. That goal came after a turnover.
“I don’t think we played bad, I just think there were some really key times in the game where we didn’t do our job,” Hall said. “But we had a lot of chances and for the most part our execution was there after the first period. They’re kind of a nifty team and they pressure hard. It took us a period to get used to it. We can’t give the puck away or let them have breakaways or 2-on-1s multiple times.”
Luongo stopped 31 shots, leading the Panthers to their fourth win in five games on their current road trip.