SUNRISE (CBSMiami/AP) – The Florida Panthers are trying to get their season back on track and remain in the Eastern Conference playoff hunt.
Getting a win against the second-best team in the NHL would normally prove to be a difficult task, but the Panthers may be catching their opponent at the right time.
The new year started in exemplary fashion for Frederik Andersen, with the Anaheim Ducks’ first-year starting goaltender improving on what was already turning into an impressive season.
His past four games have been more of a struggle, and whether an injury will deny him the opportunity to immediately correct things remains unknown.
With Andersen or backup Ilya Bryzgalov, Anaheim will try to avoid its first three-game skid since mid-November on Tuesday night against the Florida Panthers.
The Ducks (34-13-7) are making the fourth stop on a five-game road trip, which began with plenty of promise after a 5-2 win at Western Conference-leading Nashville on Thursday. They’ve since suffered a 3-2 shootout loss in Washington on Friday and Sunday’s 5-3 defeat in Tampa Bay.
“Sometimes you get frustrated and sometimes you get mad,” center Nate Thompson told the team’s official website. “Tempers flare a little bit. We just have to forget about this one and move on. We still have two more games left on this road trip. We just need to keep going from here.”
Andersen allowed all five goals on 22 shots against the Lightning before ceding responsibility to Bryzgalov midway through the third period when the net was dislodged and the crossbar struck him in the head. He skated off the ice in some discomfort, but the team didn’t believe the injury was anything serious.
In his first eight games of 2015, Andersen was 7-0-0 with a 1.97 goals-against average and two shutouts. It was an extension of an impressive 2014 stretch, but he’s since allowed at least four goals in three of four starts, resulting in a 2-2-0 record and 3.90 GAA.
Florida has also given him trouble, handing him two defeats with a 4.09 GAA after a 6-2 final in Anaheim on Nov. 16 – the midst of the Ducks’ last three-game skid. He allowed four goals on 15 shots before being replaced early in the third.
Bryzgalov is 5-2-2 with a 1.83 GAA against Florida.
Anaheim, whose 34 first-period goals allowed are among the fewest in hockey, went down 3-0 in the first 20 minutes against the Lightning and never recovered.
“It put us on our heels a little bit,” said coach Bruce Boudreau, whose team has allowed 3.83 goals per game over a 2-3-1 span. “When you’re playing a really good team, to come back from 3-0 in the first period is a tough thing.”
Florida (23-17-11) fell 3-2 in a shootout against Nashville on Sunday, which allowed the Predators to vault the Ducks for the conference lead. The Panthers, though, are more concerned with missing out on a point as they try to close a six-point gap with Boston for the final playoff spot in the East.
“(This) may be a point that got away,” said Aaron Ekblad, who scored and leads all rookie defensemen with 30 points. “We definitely had a lot of opportunities.”
The Panthers had won their previous two games as they try to recover from a crippling 1-6-1 span.
Roberto Luongo is also seeking some consistency after posting a 3.20 GAA over a 2-6-2 slump. He didn’t face the Ducks in November and is 2-6-2 with a 4.48 GAA in his last 12 appearances against them.
The Panthers have won two of the last three in the series. Nick Bjugstad had two goals and two assists in the last meeting, while Brad Boyes managed two goals and an assist.
Bjugstad, the team’s goals (17) and points leader (32), has been limited to two goals in his last 14 games after scoring 15 in his previous 27.
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