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Phoenix - Curtis Joseph
Florida - Ed Belfour
On Saturday evening, the Phoenix Coyotes were unable to overcome an early deficit as they dropped a 5-2 decision to the Florida Panthers.
Less than a minute into the game, the Coyotes penalty-killing unit received their first assignment as forward Fredrik Sjostrom was sent to the box for tripping. Facing the NHL's eighth best power play unit, Phoenix went back to basics, focusing on getting the puck out of their own zone and keeping the pressure off goaltender Curtis Joseph. In doing so, the Coyotes easily survived the early penalty and returned to full strength unharmed.
After returning to five-on-five play, Phoenix turned up the physical play as defenseman Ed Jovanovski made a pair of big hits on Panthers forwards, including one deep in the Florida zone.
Coyotes forward Georges Laraque made his way to the penalty box at 6:11 of the first when he was called for hooking in the neutral zone. Once again, the Panthers power play was unable to find success against the Coyotes penalty killing squad; and when Florida was able to get pucks to the net, Joseph was there to made the saves and keep the game scoreless.
The Panthers' offensive pressure would eventually result in the first tally of the game at 9:10 of the first when forward Nathan Horton's wrap around attempt, snuck past Joseph at the right side of the net for a 1-0 lead. Horton's goal was his third in as many games and 18th on the season, moving him into a tie for second on the team in points with 42.
Phoenix continued to find themselves in penalty trouble at 11:07 of the first when sophomore blueliner Keith Ballard was assessed a minor penalty for cross-checking. While Phoenix was able to kill off the first two penalties of the game without incident, they wouldn't be as fortunate on the penalty to Ballard. Just over a minute into the man-advantage, Florida's Olli Jokinen extended the Panthers' lead to 2-0 when he flipped a loose puck at the left side of the goal, past Joseph and into the net.
Florida would male their first trip to the box at 13:58 of the period when Bryan Allen was whistled for holding-the-stick. The Coyotes power play unit was able to set up inside the Panthers zone and even register a pair of shots on goal, but netminder Ed Belfour was able to keep Phoenix off the scoreboard and allow Florida to return to full strength.
The Coyotes would play out the remainder of the first period without being able to build a sustained attack inside the Panthers zone; as a result, the two clubs would skate off the ice after 20-minutes of play, with Florida holding a two-goal lead.
The Coyotes began the second period trying to cut into the Panthers lead by crashing the net and testing Belfour. Unfortunately, a collapsing Florida defense was able to give the Belfour the support he needed to hold off the Phoenix attack.
At 4:02 of the second, emotions began to boil over in front of the Panthers' net following a big hit by Jovanovski on Florida's Gary Roberts and a retaliatory hit on Coyotes left win Ladislav Nagy. Although no punches were thrown both teams received four minutes in minor penalties for their actions.
The Coyotes nearly cut their deficit in half at the seven minute mark of the period when a shorthanded rush ended with Belfour making a highlight save by sliding to his left and stacking his legs pad to preventing the Phoenix shot from finding the back of the net.
Phoenix defenseman Nick Boynton made his way to the penalty box at 9:16 to serve a holding-the-stick call. This time, the Coyotes defense was able to close off the Panthers' shooting lanes and support Joseph to keep Florida from adding to their lead.
With just under six-minutes left in the period, the Panthers added to their lead when Gary Roberts took a long lead pass from the neutral zone, made his way around Coyotes defenseman Derek Morris and slid the puck through the legs of Joseph to make it a 3-0 contest.
With 46-seconds to play in the stanza, Florida's Mike Van Ryn was called for holding, putting the Coyotes on a late man-advantage. While Phoenix was unable to convert the extra attacker into a goal before the end of the period, they would begin the third period with over a minute of power play time.
The Coyotes began the final period with a little over a minute of power play hockey in their favor. However, Phoenix was unable to make their mark on the scoreboard and the Panthers used that successful penalty kill as momentum during their next rush into the Coyotes zone. Feeding off their early penalty kill, Florida rushed the Phoenix net and when the Coyotes were unable to clear a loose puck from the top of the crease, Panthers forward Martin Gelinas was allowed to grab the puck and fire it into the goal from point blank range to make it a 4-0 game. Shortly after the goal by Gelinas, the Coyotes made a goaltending change, sending Mikael Tellqvist in to replace Curtis Joseph.
Phoenix would finally get on the scoreboard at 6:41 of the third, when Fredrik Sjostrom made a great individual effort to carry the puck into the offensive zone, down the right side and cut to the middle where he grabbed his own rebound and flipped the puck over the glove of Belfour for his seventh goal of the season.
Unfortunately, the Coyotes wouldn't be able to build off the momentum of Sjsotrom's goal as Florida countered with their fifth goal of the night just 35-seconds later. This time it was forward Chris Gratton who tipped the puck past Tellqvist to make it a 5-1 contest.
What made the Gratton's goal even harder to swallow was the fact that just seconds before, Coyotes forward Mike Zigomanis was struck in the face by an errant high-stick from Gary Roberts. While a pair of officials were in the vicinity if the infraction, neither made the call and Florida was allowed to continue the play and eventually score.
The Coyotes would register a late power play goal when Zbynek Michalek's shot from the point was tipped in front by Keith Ballard and directed past Belfour for his third goal of the season. But Phoenix would get no closer to mounting a comeback as the Coyotes dropped a 5-2 decision to the Panthers.