Florida Panthers Deep Dive 02/27-03/02/24

Florida and Detroit fight during the first period. AP Photo/Duane Burleson

The Panthers spent the week playing on home ice, with Buffalo, Montreal, and Detroit all coming to visit. This week’s matches featured plenty of special teams and penalties galore for everyone involved. It was also a week that saw some major milestones crossed, especially for Sam Reinhart. The stout defense, combined with the goaltending duo of Bobrovksy and Stolarz, continues to be the backbone of this Florida team. Defense will win you games more often than solely relying on the offense to produce. The Cats are having an extremely special year; the roster boasts four players in the top 20 in +/- in the NHL. There’s no love lost between the Panthers and any of the teams they played this week; here’s how things shook out on the ice. 

Buffalo Sabres

Both Tkachuk and Stenlund missed the previous game against the Capitals and were back in the lineup. Having them out had an impact on the special teams units, which didn’t look as sharp as they normally do. Tkachuk’s line started the forwards, Mikkola-Montour were the starting defensemen, and Bobrovsky was in the net; the Buffalo goalie was Luukkonen. Florida took control early. Reinhart went to make a breakaway pass to Barkov, but it was broken up. Rodrigues then went to break in with speed, and his pass to Verhaeghe was broken up. The Panthers settled into some offensive zone time and got shots from Montour and Mikkola, but they were both saved. Buffalo responded with their own offensive pressure, but the Panthers’ defense was extremely aggressive. Ekman-Larsson and Cousins both got chances that were saved. Bobrovsky made his first save of the night with 15:13 to go. Lundell was the next Cat to get a shot that got saved by Luukkonen. Tensions started heating up early, with the teams shoving each other just under 7 minutes into the period. Kulikov and Benson both got sent to the penalty box, the former for interference and the latter for holding. Bob made a great save with 12:22 to go however the 4v4 didn’t last as Montour got called for hooking and made it a 4v3. Ekblad cleared the puck deep into the Sabers’ zone, and then he blocked a wrist shot. Florida would clear the zone again to kill off the 4v3. It didn’t last as Cozens scored off a one-timer shot to give Buffalo the 0-1 lead and 9:24 to play. Florida responded with offensive pressure, getting shots from OEL and Verhaeghe that both got saved. Sam Bennett would be the one to tie things up with 7:06 on the clock. Montour created a shooting lane; Cousins passed it to Bennett, who took the shot. It was mostly back and forth before Bob made a cover save with 5:30 to go, and shoving broke out in front of the Panther net. Bryson got called for a high stick with 4:38 on the clock to send Florida to the power play. Montour had his shot saved before Tkachuk scored just 14 seconds into the PP. Tkachuk was the beneficiary of a lucky bounce off a Sabers player, he had meant to pass to Barkov when the puck ended up bouncing off the Sabers and going into the net. That brings Tkachuk up to 21 goals on the season and gives Montour a 2-point night already with 2 assists. Forsling had his wrister saved, Bob took a puck to the mask, and then Stenlund had his shot saved. The Sabers made an offensive push to end the period, but Bobrovsky was there with a big save and 1:29 to go. There was more shoving in front of the Panthers’ net before Tkachuk and Thompson started going at it in front of the benches; Tkachuk got sent to the box for roughing and 24.3 seconds on the clock. Florida killed the final seconds and will start the second period on the PK. After 20 minutes, Florida led in shots (10-9) and faceoff wins (18-11) while the teams were tied in blocked shots at 4. A 2-1 goal lead after the opening period. 

The Cats started the second period strongly, getting clears from Kulikov and Barkov and eventually killing the penalty with no shots allowed. Montour and Reinhart both took shots that got saved. Bobrovsky made a glove save with 16:46 to go. In the opening 3 minutes, each team had had o-zone time. Reinhart had a great scoring chance off a turnover at the blue line, but his shot got a blocker save with 16:15 to go. The Cats’ opened the period with a 6-0 SOG differential; Buffalo didn’t get a shot at Bob until nearly 8 minutes into the period. Luostrainen took a high stick to the face that sent him to the ice. Clifton was the offender and sent Florida back to the power play. Barkov’s shot hit the post before there was net front chaos trying to pick up the loose puck. Montour’s shot got saved, OEL’s went high, Ekblad & Rodrigues’ chances got saved. The Sabers’ PK unit was centered on Reinhart in the slot, leaving plenty of other Panthers’ players open to take shots. The power play was killed, but the Florida offense still pressured Buffalo. Forsling and Ekblad both got shots before things finally headed down the ice toward Bob. Bobrovsky made a huge save, beating Buffalo’s quick passing with 7:58 on the clock. Forsling made a big hit that drew both big cheers from the crowd and the ire of Alex Tuch, who went after Forsling. The fighting wasn’t done either, as just 35 seconds later, a fight between Mikkola and Peyton Kerbs started, but the refs broke it up quickly. It was to no avail, though; a massive full-team fight broke out a minute later. Cousins took a high hit, and pandemonium erupted; everyone but the goalies was in on the action. Cousins and Greenway both got roughing calls, with Greenway getting an extra 2 minutes, 5:37 to go in the period. Bob made a save on a shorty chance, Ekblad’s shot got saved, and the more aggressive PK from Buffalo killed off the penalty. Florida returned the power play favor with Kulikov getting called for slashing and 2:51 on the clock. Bob made a great blocker save, Barkov walked the puck deep into the Buffalo zone, and Lundell broke up a pass and cleared the zone. The penalty was killed before Tkachuk & Montour took shots in the dying seconds; both got saved. No goals this period, still a 2-1 lead for Florida. 

The Panthers wasted no time getting a penalty in the 3rd period, Mikkola to the box for tripping just 30 seconds into play. Bob made big saves that drew “Bob-by” chants from the crowd, Forsling blacked a shot, and OEL broke up a net-front scoring chance. The PK once again did its work and killed off the penalty. Florida then took control in the Sabers’ zone, getting shots from Bennett, Montour, and Barkov that all got saved. A second round of pressure after a Bob save got shots from Bennett and Montour, but both shots went wide. Reinhart was blatantly tripped, but there wasn’t a call from the refs, which led to fans loudly booing. Mikkola did draw a tripping penalty though to send the Cats to the powerplay with just under 11 minutes to play. Buffalo’s coach was so unhappy with the call that the referees gave him a bench penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct, giving the Panthers a 5v3 power play. Reinhart’s shots went wide and got saved; Montour was the one to capitalize on the two-man advantage to give Florida the 3-1 lead. He took a one-timer shot through traffic; Luukkonen had no chance of seeing the puck. Buffalo killed off the second half of the penalty and even got a 2-on-1 chance that Bob saved with 8:57 on the clock. Thompson cut the deficit to 1 goal at 7:16. Bob had made the initial save, but Thompson knocked the puck out of the air before getting it around Bobrovsky. Tkachuk’s wrister went just high; more chippiness occurred after Bob made a cover save and 5:14 to play. Florida got extended time in the Buffalo zone in the final 3 minutes, leading to the Sabers completely fumbling the plan to pull the goalie. Buffalo spent nearly a minute trying to pull Luukkonen; he kept heading off the ice only to have to retreat because Florida was heading toward the zone, and the Cats were clogging up the blue line entry for the Sabers. With just 22 seconds on to play, Buffalo finally pulled Luukkonen, but it didn’t matter at that point; Florida ran out the clock for the 3-2 win. The action wasn’t done as the teams got chippy and shovey with each other after the final buzzer.

Montreal Canadiens

Gadjovich would be out this game with a lower-body injury, so Will Lockwood would be filling in on the fourth line. Barkov’s line started, Forsling-Ekblad on defense, and Stolarz in the net; Montembeault was in the net for the Canadiens. Once again, Florida pressured. First; Mikkola and Luostrainen got to the net but ran out of room to make a shot. OEL had his shot saved, Bennett’s got glove saved, and Kulikov’s chance went wide. Stolarz made the save on a 1v1 chance early before Florida took things back to the Montreal zone. Barkov and Reinhart got a breakaway chance, and Barkov converted it for the ice-breaking goal, a 1-0 lead with 11:36 to play. The lead didn’t last long, however; the Canadiens got their own breakaway chance, catching Florida in the middle of a line change. A Stretch pass to Suzuki led to his shot beating Stolarz just above his glove, tying the game 1-1 with 11:36 left. As usual, the Cats responded to the goal with offensive pressure. Lundell’s shot went high, but then Forsling got three chances. One of his shots went wide, one got blocked, and one went high. Bennett then took a shot that got saved, and Cousins, on the rebound, also got saved. More pressure from Mikkola, whose shot got tipped high, followed by Ekblad’s shot getting blocked. The first power play of the night went to Montreal; Stenlund got called for tripping with 7 minutes left on the clock. Stolarz made some big saves early in the PP before Forsling blocked a slot pass, and Ekblad eventually cleared the zone. The penalty was killed but Montreal used quick puck movement to pull players out of position and that allowed them more shots than most have been able to take. Florida got their first power play when Savard went to the box for tripping, 4:44 to play. Stolarz had to make a kick save on a 2-on-1 chance, Tkachuk’s shot got deflected, Bennett’s went wide, and Stolarz had to make another save on a shorty chance. Montreal killed the penalty with no SOG for Florida. White took an extra swipe after Stolarz had made a save, which earned him the anger of both Stolarz and Cousins. Things got even more heated in the final minute, with shoving in front of the Montreal net resulting in Tkachuk and Matheson both going to the box for roughing with 4.4 seconds left in the period. That wasn’t even the end of the first-period penalties; Evans tripped Mikkola in the final seconds, giving Florida the power play to start the 2nd period. In a tie game after 20 minutes of play, things were already heated between the teams. 

The offensive pressure was strong on the PP to start the 2nd period. Barkov had a shot blocked, and a second one went high; Verhagehe had his shots wide and saved, and Bennett had his shot tipped away. The Canadiens killed off the penalty, but Florida was relentless. Ekblad, Rodrigues, Forsling and Reinhart all got shots off that got saved. In the first 4 minutes of the period, it was all Panthers before Montreal finally got a shot toward Stolarz that he saved. Going back to the end of the first period, it took Montreal nearly 8 minutes to get a SOG. Kovacevic got called for a high stick to send Florida to its 3rd PP of the night with 11:10 to play. Reinhart had several shots but no goals, Barkov got a chance, and Montour’s shot went wide; penalty was killed. Florida got more extended O-zone time with 8 minutes left; shots from Tkachuk, Verhaeghe, and Bennett all saved. Savard got called for cross-checking to send the Cats to their 4th PP. Verhaeghe and Tkachuk’s chances get saved. But Reinhart, Mr. Power Play himself, scored on the man advantage to break his goal-scoring drought. It also gave him his 40th goal of the year and 23rd PP goal to extend his league lead. Reinhart became just the 4th Panther to hit the 40-goal mark for the franchise, joining players like Tkachuk and Verhaeghe. The play was a familiar one for fans, Barkov to Tkachuk, to Reinhart with the quick passing, 2-1 lead with 5:52 left to play. Montreal pushed back with O-zone time in the final four minutes. Stenlund and Kovacevic started going at it, leading to Tkachuk and Lomberg joining the mix with Harris for Montreal, but no penalties were called. Tkachuk got taken down by Somared, but no penalty was called. Stolarz made a glove save, followed by a massive save on the breakaway chance with 1:24 to play. Fans showed their appreciation by chanting “Stol-lie” for the first time this season. A dangerous chance for the Canadiens resulted in Stolarz laying down to cover a rebound chance. It was in vain. However, Montreal got a faceoff win that went to Slafkovsky, who buried the puck into the net to tie the game as the period ended, a 2-2 tie game. A really unfortunate break for the Panthers, who’d dominated the period. 

The 3rd period is where the Panthers have tended to be at their best; Verhaeghe especially thrives in the final 20 minutes. He has 18 goals in the 3rd and is tied for 2nd most in the NHL. Montour got a couple of shots that both went wide, OEL had his shot blocked away, and Stolarz made a cover save with 17:41 left. HC Paul Maurice shuffled the wingers around for the 3rd period, moving Luostrainen up to play with Reinhart and Barkov. Mikkola got called for interference, giving Montreal their 2nd PP and 16:58 to play. The Canadiens converted off a shot from Newhook for their first lead of the game, 3-2. Florida would get a chance to respond on the PP when Caulfield got called for tripping at 15:34 on the clock. The Cats got shots from Tkachuk, Barkov, and Reinhart, but they all got saved, and the Canadiens killed the penalty. Rodrigues collided with Montembeault, who had gone way out of the crease to play a puck, and Rodrigues had no chance of stopping before running into him. Of course, because he touched the goalie, a fight broke out between the teams, and Rodrigues went to the box for goalie interference. Stolarz came up big with multiple saves, the PK didn’t look as aggressive as we’ve seen it in other games, but they got the job done and killed the penalty. While the 2nd period was all Florida, the 3rd was all Montreal. The Panthers only had 4 SOG with 8:10 left to play and a one goal deficit. OEL got called for tripping with 7:17 to go. Barkov cleared the zone at the blue line before stealing the puck back for a breakaway chance with Reinhart. This time, Reinhart beat Montembeault to score his 5th shorty of the season and tie for 1st in the NHL for short-handed goals. His 41st goal of the season went top-shelf over the shoulder of Montembeault. Another breakaway chance, this time for Stenlund, but his play got broken up before he could take a shot. Montreal took a timeout with 41 seconds left of the PP. Ekblad made a heroic play with his stick to break up a Montreal pass that would’ve resulted in a goal. The penalty was finally killed by the Panthers. The Cats made a final offensive push with shots from Mikkola, Rodrigues, Verhaeghe, Reinhart, Lundell, and Montour, but no goals. We got to overtime with the game tied at 3-3. OT had chances for both sides, coupled with a missed tripping call on Montreal. No one scored during the 5 minute OT, so this game goes the distance all the way to the shootout. Ylonen started for Montreal, his shot hit the post. Reinhart was the first Cat to go, and his shot was saved. Stolarz saved the shot from Suzuki, Barkov scored, and Caulfield scored, so things came down to Lundell, who could end the game. Lundell made a fantastic fake out to pull Montembeault out of the net and scored to win games 4 and 3. It wasn’t the best game for the Panthers by any stretch, but they were able to grind out a win and two more points. 

Detroit Red Wings

While the Panthers 14 game streak of allowing two goals or less broke last game, Bobrovsky’s consecutive game streak was still intact. It was his net against Detroit, with former Panther Alex Lyon in net for the Red Wings. Tkachuk’s line started with Mikkola-Montour starting for the defense. The opening 4 minutes featured a lot of back and forth, with no one getting significant O-zone time. Bobrovsky made a heroic save with 15:44 to play. Ekblad disrupted a 2-on-1 chance, and then Bob saved the second shot opportunity by sending it wide of the net. Detroit scored, but it was after Rasmussen took out Bobrovsky, so the refs waved the goal off for goalie interference. Luostrainen got the first penalty of the night for interference with 13:18 on the clock. The aggressive PK was back clearing the zone and killed off the man advantage. Detroit held the o-zone for a short while following the PP, but things returned to a back-and-forth at the midway point of the period. Florida finally got a bit of offensive pressure from Bennett before Tkachuk and Walman started shoving each other. Seider got sent to the box for slashing with 7:57 to go. Bob made a save on the short-handed chance; the Cats then took control with shots from Verhaeghe and Tkachuk but didn’t convert. Bobrovsky made a save on a loose puck through net-front chaos. Fighting then broke out behind the Panther net, with Bennett and Perron especially going at each other. The two of them got called for roughing. The Panthers got shots from OEL, Verhaehge, Montour, and Rodrigues, but no goals off the 4v4. So far, the game had been very physical from both sides, with a lot of forechecking and hits with players going down to the ice. Florida pressured the Red Wings in the last minute of play, but things ended with no score after 20 minutes, 0-0. 

Bennett got called for interference less than a minute into the 2nd period. Stenlund got a shorty chance, however the Red Wings pressured during the PP. Bob made fantastic saves and even lost his stick at one point. Reinhart put his body on the line to block a shot, and the penalty got killed. Following the penalty kill, Detroit had more pressure, but the Florida defense was making plays all over the ice. OEL deflected a show on a breakaway, Stenlund deflected another shot out of play, and Bob made a cover save with 14:56 to go. Stenlund got sent to the box for tripping with 14:47 on the clock. Reinhart got a shorty chance before the PK set to work and killed the penalty. Florida finally got some O-zone pressure from Montour and Lundell. Montour broke the ice, scoring on a rebound off Lundell’s shot with 11:10 to play. Tkachuk & Reinhart’s shots got saved. Verhaeghe’s went wide, Montour’s got saved, and Reinhart finally beat Lyon as the PP died. Montour to Barkov to Reinhart to score; that’s Reinhart’s 42nd goal on the year and 24th PP goal. There was no time to celebrate it, though, as a fight broke out immediately afterward. DeBrincat and Tkachuk both went to the box for roughing and unsportsmanlike conduct respectively, 6:54 to go in the period. No significant pressure from either side during the 4v4. Bobrovsky finally saw another shot with 3:47 on the clock, the Cats had kept the Red Wings from shooting for 6 and a half minutes. Yet another fight started with 1:10 to go, OEL was throwing punches at DeBrincat, Verhaeghe got in on it as well; Kane had pushed a Florida player into the net before the chaos started. DeBrincat and OEL both got called for roughing, while the Panthers held the O-zone for the final minute. They were just killing time till the period ended. 2-0 the lead after two periods. 

The rest of the 4v4 got killed off to start the period. Ekblad & Kulikov got their shots saved. The tensions between the teams weren’t finished, Luostrainen and Copp had words and got shovey while the benches were chirping at each other. OEL, Lundell, and Mikkola all had their shots saved. Bob made a great save on a one-timer with 16:55 to go. Rodrigues made things 3-0 off a one-timer shot from the top of the circle. Lundell and Luostrainen on the assists. Reinhart’s chance got saved, while Forsling’s got blocked. Unlike the last game, Florida was dominating the 3rd period with a 17-2 shot attempts advantage. Things went back and forth at the midway point when Tkachuk, Chiarot, Montour, Bennett, and Larkin all got into another fight. Tkachuk didn’t get called for a penalty, but the rest did. Chiarot got 4 minutes for roughing, the other three got 2 minutes for unsportsmanlike conduct. Barkov, Verhaeghe, and Tkachuk all got shots but didn’t convert on the man advantage. With 7:15 on the clock, more fighting happened which resulted in Walman and Larkin both getting thrown out with 10 minute misconducts. Walman also got a double minor for slashing and roughing. Barkov tipped in a shot from Verhaeghe with 6:58 to go. Verhaeghe’s shot went through traffic before Barkov got the tip. The Red Wings killed off the second half of the double minor. While the 30 minutes in penalties were a season-high for Detroit, it’s not a season-high for Florida. Lomberg and Faabbri were the next players thrown out with 10 minute misconducts. It took three refs to break up the fight, and Lombger got a 4 minute double minor for roughing. The Cats would end the game on the PK; Tkachuk went to the box to serve the penalties. Even without Tkachuk on the PK unit, they did their job and killed the penalty. The Panthers didn’t allow any easy zone entries or shooting lanes. Bobrovsky got the shutout, and Florida won 4-0. This week is going to be a long one with 4 games instead of 3 split away and home. The Rangers and Devils are up first in a back-to-back Monday and Tuesday night.

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