A lead that lasted all of 13 seconds was the only bright spot in an otherwise disappointing game for the Ducks, who dropped a 2-1 final to the Florida Panthers at BB&T Center in the opener of a season-long six-game, 14-day road trip. A parade to the penalty box shifted the momentum for the better part of the second period, and it was Jonathan Huberdeau, in his season debut, who lifted the Panthers to their first three-game winning streak of the season.
Hampus Lindholm scored the lone goal for Anaheim, which fell to 28-16-9 (65 points) this season. The fact that the Ducks have limited opponents to two goals or less in 12 of the last 14 games (23 GA total) and held teams without a power-play goal in 10 of the last 11 means little in a game they could've won if not for a handful of missed opportunities and two defensive blunders that ultimately doomed them. John Gibson stopped 35-of-37 shots in his loss, dropping his overall record this season to 20-12-8.
"We took a lot [of penalties] in a row and that kills the momentum," said Gibson. "Makes us defend a lot so we don't get many opportunities to score."
Reilly Smith scored the game-tying goal for Florida, which closed to within two points of the second wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference and third place in the Atlantic Division. James Reimer made 22 saves to improve his record to 9-6-4 this season.
The Ducks opened the scoring on a rocket of a shot off the stick of Lindholm, who used a quick wrist shot to beat Reimer far side at the 9:39 mark of the first period. The play started with a clean faceoff win from Antoine Vermette, who used a sweeping motion to send it back to Lindholm, who, with the goal, surpassed Ruslan Salei (26) for sole possession of 10th on the franchise's all-time goals list for defensemen.
Video: ANA@FLA: Lindholm nets wrister through crowd in front
The Panthers tied it up just 13 seconds later when Jason Demers threw a harmless pass into the crease that caromed off the skate of Smith. After a short review, the call on the ice stood, giving Smith his 10th goal of the season.
The opening period was marked by heavy hits and post-whistle skirmishes that reached its peak when Ryan Getzlaf leveled Vincent Trocheck behind the net with a thunderous check that sent the 5-foot-10, 182-pound center to the ice. Panthers defenseman Alex Petrovic took exception and followed Getzlaf out of the zone as both players engaged in verbal unpleasantries. The officials quickly intervened after Getzlaf and Petrovic dropped the gloves, and both were assessed matching roughing minors.
Petrovic only had to wait out the intermission before finding a dance partner at the 4:19 mark of the second period when he and Kevin Bieksa traded punches in front of the Panthers bench.
The Ducks' first case of adversity in the game occurred midway through the second period when they were forced to rotate three defensemen on a 5-on-3 penalty kill for 1:55. With Sami Vatanen in the dressing room a few shifts prior due to a lower-body injury, consecutive penalties to defensemen Korbinian Holzer and Josh Manson left only Lindholm, Bieksa and Cam Fowler for the PK, which the club successfully killed off. Gibson was magnificent, turning aside a handful of Grade-A chances, most of which on the doorstep.
After controlling the majority of the second period, the Panthers took the lead when Huberdeau chipped a shot over Gibson's shoulder at the 15:02 mark. The game represented the season debut for the 23-year-old winger, who had missed 51 contests due to an Achilles injury suffered during the preseason.
Despite pulling Gibson for the extra attacker with a minute and change remaining in regulation, the Ducks couldn't find a way to solve Reimer, who improved to 5-2-1 over his last eight games. Anaheim's best chance in the late stages came from Corey Perry, who was robbed for the second time in the game. His first came in the opening seconds of the period when he somehow failed to hit a wide-open net with Reimer sprawled on the ice.
The Ducks will conclude their back-to-back set tomorrow night in Tampa Bay.
"We just need to focus on getting better," said Gibson. "Hopefully we can stay out of the box. If we do that, we'll be fine."