Florida Deep Dive Recap: 04/01-04/03/2024

Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Florida started its final road trip this week, having clinched a playoff spot last week. Currently, the Panthers are in second place in the Atlantic Division behind the Boston Bruins. The first half of this road trip has already been disappointing for fans to watch as there’s been inconsistent play as well as the team looking sloppy. Bad turnovers led to at least 3-4 goals in just two games, which is reason for concern, and the team doesn’t seem focused game to game like they’re going through the motions waiting for the playoffs to start. While I don’t think the team should go into the playoffs being injured, the level of effort doesn’t look like where it was just over a month ago during February. The Panthers dropped the first two games of the road trip to Toronto and Montreal. 

Toronto Maple Leafs:

The Cats headed to Toronto Monday night for what could be a playoff series preview. Bobrovsky was between the pipes for Florida, while the Maple Leafs had Samsonov in the net. HC Paul Maurice said that the bottom line would be rotating to get everyone at least one game before the playoffs started. For the match with the Maple Leafs, the bottom line was Gadjovich-Stenlund-Lomberg. Barkov’s line started for the forwards, with Forsling-Ekblad on defense. Ekblad got a shot off early that got saved before Toronto got time in the O-zone. Mikkola blocked a shot from Matthews followed by Bobrovsky making a good save with 18:12 to play. Rodrigues made a shot that went high off a breakaway, Luostarinen made a stick check to break up a play, and Gadjovich had his shot get blocked. Barkov made a takeaway and his shot got saved. Lomberg made a hit that had too much of an extra shove and he got called for boarding after a fight broke out because of his hit with 17:00 on the clock. Bob made a save, the PK pressured the puck carriers and kept them to the perimeter, and then Barkov and Reinhart got a short-handed chance that got saved. The Panthers killed off the penalty. Lomberg made a steal and a breakaway, but his shot was saved by Samsonov. Good defensive plays came from OEL and Forsling to break up Toronto’s attempts. Barkov made a fantastic pass to Verhaeghe, but the play got called for offsides. Luostarinen drew a holding penalty giving the Panthers their first power play of the night. Verhaeghe’s shot deflected high before OEL broke up a shorty chance for the Maple Leafs. OEL then had his shot blocked and Bennett’s went high; Toronto killed the penalty. With 6:02 left in the period Robertson broke the ice for the Leafs off a bad turnover that led to a 1 on 1 chance, 0-1 the lead. The 1 goal lead didn’t stay for long as Matthews made it 0-2 off a shot right off the faceoff and 5:28 on the clock. Barkov got bumped enough that it allowed Toronto time to make the pass to Matthews. Florida got its second PP when Tavares got called for interference. There wasn’t much going for the PP but Bennett got completely robbed of a goal when Samsonov saved the puck as it was on the goal line; the Leafs killed off that penalty. Mikkola and Knies got into a fight with 1:21 left to play which resulted in Knies getting called for roughing. Time ran out, and the Leafs held a 0-2 lead going into the first intermission. 

To start the 2nd period Montour and Verhaeghe both got shots off during the remainder of the PP. They didn’t convert, but just after the PP ended, Montour shot to score with 19:13 left in the period, and Verhaeghe got the assist. The single-goal deficit went back to 2 as less than a minute later, Bertuzzi scored for Toronto to make it 3-1 and 18:32 to go. Gadjovich headed to the box for holding with 17:59 on the clock. Florida cleared, Reinhart got another short-handed chance that was saved, and Luostarinen walked it in deep and nearly had a scoring chance of his own; the Cats killed the penalty. Another fight broke out between the teams with 15:29 to play, but no penalties were called. Lundell got a shot off a rebound and got robbed by Samsonov. The 4th line did a good job of holding the O-zone and getting chances. As the period headed toward the midway point, the Panthers struggled to clear their zone, and it caught up to them when Kamf scored with 11:28 to play off a rebounded shot; Bob made the save on the initial shot. Florida wasn’t boxing Toronto out of the blue paint and got caught puck-watching, leaving players all alone in front of the net. Barkov was the next one in the box for tripping with 10:56, while the defense at even strength has struggled, the PK has still been good and killed off the penalty. Montour’s shot went wide off a 2 on 1 chance, Rodrigues’ got blocked, and Lundell’s got saved. Another mismanagement of the puck at the blue line led to Toronto getting a wraparound attempt that went in as Bob couldn’t get over to cover the post fully and made it 5-1 with 5:55 to play. The heavy forechecking from Florida hadn’t been present and they were getting outworked by the Maple Leafs. Lundell and OEL got shots off before the period ended but didn’t convert. Toronto headed into the final period with a 1-5 lead. 

Bobrovsky had a rough night, and his team wasn’t helping him out, so HC Paul Maurice made a goalie change and put Stolarz in for the 3rd period. Florida came out like a completely different team in the 3rd period. They held the o-zone in the opening minutes, getting shots from Barkov, Tarasenko, and Luostarinen. Tarasenko would tip Mikkola’s shot past Samsonov to score and made it 2-5 with 17:46 to play. Tkachuk’s redirection got saved and for the second time Monday night, Florida got robbed of a goal with the puck on the goal line by Samsonov, this time Rodrigues was the victim. Rodrigues got hauled down to the ice by Benoit to give the Cats their 4th PP of the night. Worth noting is that Verhaeghe, at some point during the period, left the bench and didn’t return to the game. Tarasenko took Verhaeghe’s spot on the PP, Reinhart became the third player robbed of a goal with the puck on the goal line by Samsonov, Montour blocked a short-handed chance, and Tarasenko’s shot hit the post. The Leafs killed off the penalty, but there were a couple of close calls. Lundell & Mikkola’s shot got blocked before Reinhart took a shot to score with 8:02 on the clock, 3-5 the deficit. Tarasenko made a hard quick pass to Reinhart to score his 52nd goal of the year. After that goal, Toronto took their timeout. Rodrigues’ shot hit the post before OEL made a fantastic defensive play to stop a breakaway chance. Stolarz made a big glove save off a 2 on 0 chance with 5:37 on the clock. Gadjovich blocked a shot followed by Lundell and Ekblad having their chances get saved. Reeves and Lomberg got into a fight with 3:02 on the clock but no penalties were called. Stolarz headed to the bench for the man advantage when play resumed. A Florida shot ended up loose in the blue paint, but the Cats couldn’t work it through to score. Bennett made it 4-5 with just under 2 minutes to play; Florida took their timeout after Bennet’s goal. Stolarz made a save before heading back to the bench with 1:16 to play. Matthews sealed the win with an empty net goal with less than a minute to play as Montour lost a skate and another Panther overskated the puck. The near heroic comeback came up short, and Toronto won 4-6. The 3rd-period effort looked like the Panthers were playing properly, but they need to string together a full 60-minute effort like that for the playoffs. 

Montreal Canadiens:

The second half of the back-to-back had Verhaeghe out with injury and Tkachuk out with illness. That left the lines as follows: Tarasenko-Barkov-Reinhart, Cousins-Bennett-Okposo, Luostarinen-Lundell-Rodrigues, and Lorentz-Stenlund-Lomberg with Stolarz in the net. Montembeault was the goalie for the Canadiens. Reinhart’s line started the offense, with Forsling-Ekblad for the defense. Tarasenko got the first shot of the night that got saved, Rodrigues’ chance got blocked, and then Savard got called for tripping Rodrigues with 18:47 to play. Tarasenko and Luostarinen filled in on the top PP Unit with no Verhaeghe and Tkachuk. Barkov’s shot got deflected wide, Luostarinen’s shot went wide, and Montreal killed the penalty. Kulikov made a good stick defensive play, and then Stolarz made a poke check. Mikkola blocked a shot and Stolarz made a glove save with 15:04 to go. The Canadiens continued to hold the zone with Stolarz making good saves with 11:29 to play. Florida would break the ice with Rodrigues, using his speed to get into the zone and taking two defensemen with him, which allowed Lundell to jump onto the puck and shoot to score with 10:44 left in the period, 1-0 the lead. Stolarz made a massive save on a 2 on 1 chance with 10:18 on the clock but the Canadiens would tie the game with Armia scoring off a rebound and no Florida player around him, 9:48 left in the period. Florida responded with offensive pressure from Luostarinen, Montour, Cousins, and Forsling all taking shots but didn’t convert. Barkov would be the one to get the lead back off a pass from Tarasenko. Montembeault tripped Barkov who then went on to make the scoring play while he was diving to the ice, 6:47 on the clock and a 2-1 lead for the Panthers. It was a good start for the Cats, then devolved into taking undisciplined penalties the rest of the night. Stenlund got called for hooking with 2:12 to play. Reinhart blocked a shot, and then the Panthers cleared the zone. Luostarinen then got called for delay of the game with 1:10 left in the period, giving Montreal a 5v3 PP for a minute. Stolaz came up big and made multiple saves in the last minute, followed by Ekblad and Slafkovsky getting into a fight, which sent both of them to the locker room early as they got minors for roughing. The Panthers killed off the 5v3 and ended the period with a 2-1 lead. 

Ekblad did not return to the game, and Florida killed the rest of the penalty. Stolarz made multiple saves in the first 3 minutes, including one right off the faceoff and a loose puck in the crease. After a glove save by Stolarz made a stoppage, the officials went to review the loose puck play to see if the puck completely crossed the goal line. Stolarz’s pad was up against the post, and none of the TV angles showed the puck crossing the line. The officials initially ruled a good goal after the review, only to walk back the call off a miscommunication; 2-1 was still the lead for Florida. Lundell had a great scoring chance but didn’t get the bounce needed to go into the net. Stenlund blocked a shot, Lorentz had his shot saved and a Florida wrister shot was saved. An errant pass from Kulikov got intercepted by Suzuki who shot to score and tie the game 2-2 with 14:02 left in the period. Montreal got extended time in the O-zone, leading to a nearly 2-minute shift for the Florida players, and Stolarz made a couple of more saves. With 9:12 to go Bennett got called for interference. Luostarinen’s short-handed got tipped out of play, but then the Canadiens tipped in a shot over Stolarz’s shoulder for the 2-3 lead. The Panthers responded with offensive pressure from Barkov, OEL, Reinhart, and Forsling, but no one found the back of the net. Reinhart drew a holding penalty with 5:04 go to in the period. Florida still didn’t have much going on the PP and gave up another short-handed chance that Stolarz saved; the Canadiens killed the penalty off. Time wound down, and Montreal held the 2-3 lead going into the final period. 

Montreal doubled the lead on a wraparound attempt just 33 seconds into the 3rd period for the 2-4 lead. Florida wasn’t doing a good job of dealing with the Canadiens’ top-line players. Stolarz made a save on a breakaway chance and the rebound chance. Florida got its third PP off a delay of game with 15:55 on the clock. The special team’s woes continued as the Cats gave up a short-handed chance when the puck got past two Florida players and allowed Evans a breakaway 1-on-1 chance, a 5-2 lead with 15:26 to play. Luostarinen got called for hooking at 14:38 on the clock. Barkov had a chance that was loose in the crease but couldn’t get it past the goal line; Montreal killed the penalty. Pezzetta got called for kneeing sending Florida back on the PP. Barkov’s shot hit the post, Tarasenko’s shots got saved & went high, and Reinhart’s got saved. Once again, the Canadiens killed the penalty. A fight broke out with 6:02 to play, Cousins and Evans went at each other as did Montour and Gallagher; all four players were thrown out with game misconducts. Additionally, Cousins was given a double minor for roughing, and Evans got a minor for roughing. Luostarinen then got called for slashing with 5:26 on the clock giving Montreal its second 5v3 power play. Stolarz made a big save before yet another fight erupted behind the Florida net with 4:36 left. Slafkovsky and Mikkola were given a minor for roughing. OEL then got called for slashing with 4:13 to play, and Stolarz came up with a big save. Luostarinen was denied on his short-handed chance, followed by Stenlund’s shorty chance going wide. Florida eventually killed off all the penalties. Bennett got a goal back to make it 3-5 with just over a minute left in the period. Stafkovsky got called for delay of game with 37.4 seconds left in the game. OEL got one shot off before regulation ended, giving the Canadiens the 3-5 win.

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