Red Wings offense slumbers in loss to Panthers

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Sunrise, Fla. — Maybe the Red Wings haven't quite awoken from their late-season snooze.

They started this quick, two-game trip into Florida with a disappointing 3-1 loss to the Florida Panthers, losing for the fifth time in the last seven games.

The Red Wings were hoping things were corrected Sunday in Pittsburgh after they clobbered the Penguins while playing with the type of energy that had been missing for about two weeks.

But for too many portions against the Panthers, there wasn't enough done to earn an important victory.

"Anytime you haven't won, you didn't do enough," Niklas Kronwall said. "We did some good things, but we have to find a way to bear down when we get the chance (to score)."

Erik Cole had the lone Red Wings goal in the third period, his second since arriving in Detroit and 20th this season.

The Red Wings (38-20-11, 87 points) travel Friday to Tampa Bay to face the Lightning, who lead the Red Wings by six points for second place in the Atlantic Division (and home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs).

"We just have to come back strong," Henrik Zetterberg said. "It's a big game against Tampa and we need to get two points. Obviously it was a step forward against Pittsburgh and this was a decent game. We didn't play that bad."

Having three days off seemed to boost the Red Wings, who skated better than they did during the losing streak before the Pittsburgh game.

The Red Wings also hit three crossbars in this game. But ultimately, it all produced another costly loss.

"We did a lot of good things," coach Mike Babcock said. "I didn't like us the first few minutes but we skated good after that. We had a lot of opportunities.

"You have to find ways to win games. But we had energy and skated good."

Roberto Luongo, playing his first game since March 3, stopped 26 shots for the Panthers (32-25-14, 78 points), out-dueling Petr Mrazek (29 saves).

Luongo was at his best in the latter parts of the third period — after Cole scored and the Red Wings pressed to get back into the game

They had a power play just before the Cole goal and pulled Mrazek in the final minute, but failed to mount any offense.

"Colesy got us a big one, but we have to find a way to score (another goal)," Kronwall said. "We score one more and it's a game and we have a chance. Unfortunately, we didn't get the job done."

The Panthers' star offensively was Jaromir Jagr, still rolling along at the tender age of 43. He had a goal, his 13th, and assist in the second period while breaking open a scoreless game.

Brandon Pirri and Scottie Upshall added the other Florida goals.

Jagr gave the Panthers a 1-0 lead with goal No. 718 of his career, moving him past Phil Esposito for No. 5 on the all-time list.

"He's a good player, eh?" Babcock said. "You think about it, he left the league for three years (to play in Russia). Just think how many he would have scored. He has to be one of the best scorers of all time, and doing it at his age, people thought he was done a long time ago.

"He's obviously not done."

On the goal, Jagr took a pass from Jonathan Huberdeau cutting through the middle.

Jagr skated to the dot and wristed a shot on which Mrazek appeared to guess wrong, the puck beating him wide at 10:55.

The goal instantly energized the Panthers and the small, but vocal, crowd at BB&T Center.

The Panthers made it 2-0 at 14:42 with Jagr originally being credited with the goal, which was later given to Brandon Pirri, who scored in his fourth consecutive game.

The Panthers pushed the lead to 3-0 early in the third period on Scottie Upshall's eighth goal.

Upshall carried the puck on a 2-on-1 rush down the side, used the decoy perfectly, and snapped a a shot over Mrazek's left shoulder at 6:50 of the third period.

"We did some good things out there, but at the same time there were chances we gave them," Cole said. "You give them opportunities, they're going to make you pay. We have to execute better."

The Red Wings were without Pavel Datsyuk, who missed the game with a lower body injury and is not on the trip.

But they did get Darren Helm back into the lineup. He had missed seven straight games with an oblique injury.

Helm was credited with a team-high three hits in 15:06 of ice time.