An ugly beginning led to a promising run for the Florida Panthers on Wednesday night. The final result, however, was way too familiar.
For the sixth time this season, the Panthers gave up either the tying or winning goal in the final minute as Dallas' Jere Lehtinen scored on a power play with 15.8 seconds remaining to give the host Stars a 4-3 victory.
The loss, Florida's franchise-record 10th straight on the road, came after Florida fought back from a 3-0 deficit in the first period. The Panthers tied the score in the second but failed to score in the third as they were called for five penalties in the final 20 minutes.
The final one was a killer, too, as Joel Kwiatkowski was whistled for tripping with 1:12 left. The call appeared not only to be late, but also looked like a pretty good acting job by Antti Miettinen.
"I'm not going to say it was a bad penalty," coach Jacques Martin said, biting his words. "I thought we came back hard and deserve a much better fate."
Possibly alluding to Florida's penchant for getting late penalties when leading or tied, Martin said it was something "that needs to be addressed."
When asked if the referees were working against the Panthers, captain Olli Jokinen told reporters to ask referee Don Koharski. Kwiatkowski said he would bite his lip. "It seems like we're getting the short end of the stick," he said.
"We were playing the odds," Jokinen said. "Sooner or later they were going to score. The penalties were way too many. It can't get any more frustrating than this. We bounced back and played hard then had to play 10 minutes shorthanded. It's tough to get any flow when you get five penalties."
The Panthers pulled Roberto Luongo after Dallas scored three first-period goals but put things together in the second. Juraj Kolnik put the seemingly listless Panthers on the board at 6:25 of the second, then Nathan Horton made it a 3-2 game just over a minute later.
The small crowd at AmericanAirlines Center was stunned when former Star Joe Nieuwendyk tied the score after fighting for the puck in front of the net on a 5-on-3 Florida advantage. As the two teams jostled for the puck, Nieuwendyk was slammed into the goal but got a piece of the puck and pushed it past Marty Turco to tie the score with 7:24 left in the period.
"Kind of the same old story. We didn't have a very good start again and we had to battle back," said Nieuwendyk, who led the Stars to the Stanley Cup in 1999. "We always seem to find a way to battle back. I don't know what it is."
Again, however, the Panthers couldn't stay out of the box in the second. Backup goalie Jamie McLennan looked like the All-Star Florida keeper in the third, turning back one rush after another. When Steve Montador took a penalty with 4:12 left, Dallas felt the momentum and came with a hard charge. McLennan staved off two hard shots from the slot and Florida survived its fourth penalty-kill of the period.
The Panthers wouldn't do the same on the fifth.
"It wore on the guys," Martin said. "We spent half the period shorthanded, and that makes things pretty difficult. It seems to be a different kind of game between the second and third period."
Florida had cleared off almost a minute of Kwiatkowski's penalty when the Panthers had a chance to clear. Montador had the puck in the left corner but stumbled and the puck was picked off. Mike Modano fed the puck from behind the goal line to Lehtinen, and he smacked the puck past McLennan for the winner.
"We put ourselves in position to come away with some points tonight," Nieuwendyk said, "and too often we've seen us run into penalties in key situations. You give a team like that too many opportunities and you're playing roulette."
In other NHL action: Nashville 5, Washington 2; Calgary 4, New Jersey 1; Chicago 2, NY Rangers 1; Colorado 4, Boston 1.
Pittsburgh Penguins owner/star player Mario Lemieux was admitted to hospital on Wednesday for observation of an irregular heartbeat, the National Hockey League team reported.
The 40-year-old Lemieux was to be be kept in overnight and definitely would not have featured yesterday night against the Minnesota Wild. His playing status will be re-evaluated later in the week.
The Hall of Famer has missed significant playing time over the years with various injuries and ailments, including a battle with Hodgkin's disease in 1993 and severe back and hip problems.
Lemieux recently missed two games with what the team said was stomach flu, an illness that has lingered for the past few weeks. It was not disclosed if that problem was in any way related to his latest illness.