This week, Florida continued its stretch of home games as they had games against the Anaheim Ducks, Detroit Red Wings, and Minnesota Wild. It was certainly a rough week for Cats fans as Florida only walked away with two points this week from overtime losses and a regulation loss to Minnesota. Barkov’s presence on the ice is sorely missed, especially on the specialty teams units. Untimely penalties proved to be costly this week as they lead to game-winning power plays for the opposition, and the lack of consistent scoring from the 3rd and 4th lines is starting to become more of a concern since it puts all the goal-scoring pressure on the top six. Now, to break down how the matches went, there was a lot that happened, especially in the Minnesota game.
Anaheim came in on Monday night hoping to avenge their earlier season loss, while Florida wanted to sweep the series. Stolarz was in the net for the Panthers, and Gibson was between the pipes for the Ducks. Radko Gudas returned to South Florida to play against his former team and received a warm welcome back from fans in attendance. The first penalty of the night went to Anaheim for cross-checking by Sam Carrick just under seven minutes into the period. The Cats’ power play is still very dangerous, and they were looking to extend the consecutive goals to nine games. Behind quick passing and a chance off the rush, Bennett would score during the PP with assists from Rodrigues and Ekman-Larsson. The defense was looking solid and not allowing Anaheim much time in the offensive zone. Stolarz covered a puck shot with 7:52 left in the period; Florida would go back to holding most of the offensive zone time. Lockwood got a shot that was blocked, Tkachuk got a puck to the net for Bennett, who nearly scored, and then Verhaeghe took a shot off a breakout chance. A slashing penalty from Ekman-Larsson sent Anaheim to their first power play; they’d gone 10 minutes without a shot on goal. The Ducks wouldn’t capitalize as it would be the Cats who scored short-handed; Reinhart put it to the back of the net with an assist from Mikkola. As the clock wound down, the Panthers would make a gamble at the blue line that they’d pay for; Killorn would be Stolarz to score with just two seconds left on the clock. Florida led 2-1 heading into the first intermission, dominating the shots 10-4 and the offensive zone time.
Anaheim took a shot early, but Barkov was there to tip it out of play. Tkachuk got a breakaway chance but elected not to shoot; instead, wait for the rest of his line to catch up. Lomberg had a great look off a backhanded shot to the top shelf. Florida held the offensive zone time in the first four minutes, but the Ducks were working harder in the 2nd period than they were in the 1st. Terry got called for hooking and headed off to the box, sending Florida back on the PP with 15:25 left to play. Ekblad’s shot hit the pipe, however, the Ducks would answer with their own short-handed goal with 14:36 on the clock to tie the game. This period became a revolving door for penalties as Reinhart got sent off for tripping with 14:05 left and a 4v4 for 40 seconds. Tkachuk had some looks, Stolarz made a great save on Killorn, and then Ekblad got denied on a 3 on 1 rush. Strome then got sent to the box for slashing, 12:13 to play. Tkachuk and Reinhart both got some looks during the PP, followed by Barkov’s shot hitting the glass. Verhaeghe hit the post but got a second chance to shoot right off the faceoff, and that one got past Gibson for the 3-2 lead.
Tempers were rising between the two teams as some shoving was seen between Mikkola and Killorn. Ekman-Larsson then got sent to the box for hooking at the halfway point in the period. Anaheim was moving the puck quickly during the PP however the stout Florida defense kept them in check and didn’t allow a single shot. With 7:11 on the clock, Bennett gave the Cats a two-goal lead with a one-timer shot while Tkachuk, with the assist, tied his career high of a 9-game point streak. Rodrigues had a 1 on 1 breakaway chance but missed. Lundell then headed to the penalty box for tripping, bringing the PK unit back on the ice. The aggressive penalty killing continued as the Panthers were able to kill it off. Stenlund even got a short-handed shot that got blocked, and Gibson saved the rebound. Tension finally boiled over when a fight broke out with two minutes on the clock after Tkachuk took a hard hit where he ended up on the ice. Bennett was quick to jump in and stand up for his teammate, going after Killorn, who made the initial hit. Both got sent to the box, Bennett for interference, and Killorn for cross-checking. Florida held the offensive zone for the majority of the 4v4, Tkachuk’s chance hitting the crossbar and Verhaeghe’s getting saved. At the other end, Stolarz made a save on Fowler’s shot from the slot, and the period came to a close, 4-3 Florida leads headed into the 3rd.
The carousel of penalties wasn’t going anywhere, as 12 minutes worth of PIM occurred during the final 20 minutes of play. For the majority of the first half of the period Florida held the offensive zone time, Lomberg’s chance got broken up by a stick from a Ducks’ player. More posts got hit this time it was Lockwood’s shot, Montour’s ended up in Gibson’s glove. Anaheim got one back off a backhand shot from Terry with 16:15 to play and a tie score 4-4. Verhaeghe and Reinhart could both come up big, as the former leads the NHL in 3rd-period goals while the latter is tied for 2nd. The poor puck luck would be back, though, for the Panthers; Verhaeghe’s chance got blocked by Gudas, Forsling’s got blocked away & his second shot went into Gibson’s glove, and Barkov’s chance got stopped. While Florida was holding the offensive zone time, they weren’t getting many clear shots on the net; things would go back and forth midway through the period. McTavish collided with Stolarz which incited immediate retaliation from the Panthers, Bennett and McTavish got into a fight while Tkachuk was fighting Vatrano, 6:33 was left to play. All four plays were sent to the box for roughing, 5 on 5 play would continue. The Ducks made a late push, holding the O-zone time in the last five minutes.
The penalties had scrambled up Florida’s lines but didn’t stop the fighting as Tkachuk got into it with Carlson this time and Mikkola got called for removing the helmet, there was just over two and a half minutes left in the period. One final penalty to Killorn for holding; there were shots from Ekblad and Forsling but no goals as time ran out. Barkov missed the part of the period with an injury and did not return to the game. Overtime was short with Stolarz making an initial save on Killorn only to have him score on the short side just 48 seconds into OT. A rough ending to a game that Florida probably should have won having dominated most of the stat categories, but the Ducks led in both blocked shots and hits and took one fewer penalty.
Barkov missed the end of the Anaheim game and wasn’t available to play on Wednesday against Detroit. As a result, this scrambled up the forward lines a decent amount; the top line now had Loustarinen-Lundell-Reinhart, 2nd line stayed the same, 3rd line had Lomberg-Stenlund-Rodrigues, and the 4th line had Gadjovich-Lorentz-Lockwood. Verhaeghe’s line started with the Forsling pairing on defense and Bobrovsky in the net; Alex Lyon, last season’s backup, in the crease for Detroit. Chaos happened early in the period as there were bodies everywhere trying to take care of a loose puck in front of the net. Montour took a shot all the way from the blue line, and just like the last game, Florida held the offensive zone time in the first five minutes of play. Bob made some good saves on Dylan Larkin but was allowing rebounds. Lyon made a save on Lundell’s shot, and then Florida got a 3 on 2 chance but no goal.
Midway through the period, the teams were trading time in the offensive zones. Bob made a big save, and then Rodrigues was there to clear the puck back to Detroit’s side. The Cats were doing a good job of covering the rebounds in the slot. Florida would get more time in the Red Wings’ zone with shots by Lundell and Ekman-Larsson. Tempers got hot in the back half of the period, a fight between Lomber and Compher broke out, both went to the box for rouging. It didn’t stop there as Tkachuk and Chiarot then squared off; Tkachuk went to the box for rouging & Chiarot for removing the helmet. Bennett had a wrap-around chance, but Lyon was there on the save. Montour then joined Tkachuk in the box for slashing, leading to a rare 4v3 PP for the Red Wings. Detroit held the offensive zone; Bob made a save on a one-timer & then a puck that was loose got cleared out of the crease. The Panthers PK would do its job and keep the Red Wings off the scoreboard. The fighting came back as the opening period wound down with Bennett & Fisher going at it, but it would be Gostisbehere who ended up in the box for roughing as Tkachuks helmet came off the second time that period. Verhaeghe, Montour, Bennett, and Reinhart all got shots off during the power play, but Detroit ultimately killed the penalty. Daniel Sprong had a chance that looked like it was going in, yet Bobrovsky made a big save to keep the puck between his skates and out of the net. Florida led in the offensive stats but Detroit was the better defensive team in the 1st period, no score after 20 minutes.
Tkachuk’s line would start the 2nd period as well; his early shot would be blocked away. The first 5 minutes would be mostly back and forth; Detroit did get a 4 1 chance but ended up only taking a low-percentage shot off the side of the net. Montour went off the ice for interference. Loustarinen cleared the zone first & then Kulikov cleared the zone again. A pass from Lundell to Reinhart led to him scoring top shelf while short-handed, 1-0 lead. The Cats utilized speed to get behind the defense to create the scoring chance. For Reinhart, the short-handed goal would be his 33rd on the year, 20th specialty team goal, and extended his goal streak to 8 games, setting a franchise record. The Red Wings’ best chance so far came off quick passing, but the shot went wide. Lyon cleared a bouncing puck in front of his net and then made the save on a tipped shot. Detroit would tie the game off a tipped shot, Maata made the shot, Rasmussen tipped it in. The tie didn’t last long as Forsling would score a response goal just 17 seconds later, Bennett and Tkachuk got the assists. Florida dominated the offensive zone time, shots from Mikkola, Kulikov, Reinhart, and Tkachuk all getting saved or covered by Lyon. A shot from Detroit would hit Bobrovsky in the chest, then Loustarinen & Reinhart both had chances go wide. With less than a minute on the clock, Sprong went to the box for holding as time ran out with Florida still on the PP and with the 2-1 lead.
Detroit killed off the rest of the penalty to open the 3rd period. More Panthers shots went wide or got saved by Lyon, and it would be the Red Wings to strike first in the final frame to tie the game; Fabbri got the goal with 13:45 on the clock. The Cats fought back by having extended offensive pressure, while Detroit responded with their own pressure. Tkachuk made a great pass to Bennett, whose shot got saved, followed by Reinhart’s getting blocked away. Detroit made a push with just over eight minutes on the clock, two shots hit the posts, and Bob saved the 3rd chance. Lyon made a glove save on Montour’s shot on the other side of the ice. Fabbri got called for hooking, and controversially, the refs called Rodrigues for embellishment. Fans were extremely displeased with the embellishment call and could be heard booing on the TV broadcast. During the 4v4, Verhaeghe got a shot off that went wide while Bob took a shot to the mask. Neither team would generate goal success during the penalties, the majority of the time going back and forth into each other’s zones. Ekblad got called for hooking with less than a minute on the clock, Head Coach Paul Maurice was visibly pissed at the call, and the fans echoed him, loudly booing for the second time during the period. Loustarinen had a breakaway chance but came up short; the period ended tied 2-2, so to overtime, we go for the second straight game this week. The Red Wings would keep the PP and held the zone time for the 4v3 advantage. Forsling made a big block, however to no avail, with 13 seconds left on the PP Larkin would score for Detroit for the win.
One last chance to grab a win this week, Minnesota was in town on Friday night. Barkov was still out, so Wednesday’s mixed-up lines were still in effect; Reinhart’s line would start, Forsling-Ekblad for defense, and Bobrovsky was back in the crease. Fleury was in the net for Minnesota, having recently celebrated his 552nd win and moved into 2nd place for All Time Wins for a Goalie. This matchup wasted no time going crazy as Lockwood accidentally hit Fleury, who was behind his net to play a puck, and a major fight broke out between the teams. Lockwood had no room to move to avoid Flower, but he did come in in hot pursuit after the puck. Three Wild players jumped Lockwood immediately, gear got scattered all over the ice, and Panthers players came in to defend their teammate. Lockwood ended up in the box for interference & roughing, and Bogosian got called for roughing on the Wild side. Minnesota went on the power play and made the most of it, they scored off Kaprizov tipping in a shot from Boldy, 17:11 left in the opening frame. Bob made a glove save, but it looked like he didn’t fully decide what to do with it, and the puck fell out of his glove.
Florida was on top of it and managed to get the loose puck cleared. The carousel of penalties from Wednesday night was back; Duhaime decided that Lockwood hadn’t paid enough for the hit on Fleury, and the two dropped gloves for a full-on fistfight. Lockwood didn’t back down and even got some good hits in on Duhaime, but Duhaime made one hard hit that sent Lockwood straight to the ice and then off the rink for the rest of the game. Both players got given majors for fighting. The Cats were trying to play a more physical game as opposed to their last couple of outings; they ended up having the advantage in hits 21-15 at the end. As has been the story this week, Florida held the majority of the offensive zone time; shots from Bennett and Ekman-Larsson went wide, got saved, or got blocked. Fight Club wasn’t over though, this time Gajovich squared off against Foligno, both went to the box with 5 minute major penalties for fighting. Faber then joined Foligno in the box with an interference call. Tkachuk & Reinhart’s shots get tipped away, and Verhaeghe & Rodrigues’ chances get saved by Flower. The Wild killed the penalty off and then got to go back on the power play themselves when Stenlund got called for tripping with 6:22 on the clock. The Cats PK went to work and didn’t allow a shot on goal; this would be the only good penalty kill of the night, as, in a strange turn of events, Florida was better at 5v5 play than specialty teams. The Panthers got extended offensive pressure in the last five minutes but had an issue with passing the puck. Bobrovsky made an amazing blocker save with less than a minute left, and Ekblad got one final shot that Fleury saved just as the clock ran out. For the period as a whole, there were 32 minutes worth of penalties called and served between the two teams.
Florida took control of the offensive zone early in the second, Ekblad would tie the game just 35 seconds into the period. His shot got tipped in behind the line off Fleury’s pads, and Tkachuk & Verhaeghe got credited for the assists. However, penalties were still the name of this game, as a rare goalie penalty got called on Bobrovsky. Bob took exception to Hartman being in the crease & bumping him, so he used his stick to trip Hartman. Minnesota headed back to the PP, and although Bob made a big save off a puck that went above players’ heads, they would cash in again; Hartman scored off a one-timer shot with 16:38 left to play 2-1 MN leads. Forsling got more physical by using a rarely-seen hip check that caused the fans to erupt with cheers. Just under seven minutes into the middle frame, Mikkola headed to the box for high sticking; the Wild used quick puck passing to get the Panthers’ defense out of position, and Faber would score yet again to extend the lead 3-1. Not even two minutes later, Loustarinen headed off for slashing to give Minnesota its 4th power play of the night. The Cats PK continued to look lost as Zuccarello once again scored for MN for the 4-1 lead.
At this point, the game looked lost and way far out of hand for the Panthers; Head Coach Paul Maurice made the decision to switch the goalies. Stolarz would be between the pipes for the rest of the night. On the other end of the ice, Minnesota also made a goalie switch to put Gustavsson in; Fleury would go off the ice and not return to the bench. And if you thought tempers had finally settled down a bit, you would be wrong; this game was more fight night than regular hockey. Lomberg and Duhaime dropped gloves right off the faceoff to go at it; each got an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. The penalties would expire just for Bogosian to head off for delay of game penalty. Loustarinen had a shot that created an even better rebound chance. Unfortunately, it got cleared instead of converted into a goal. Just after the PP is killed by the Wild absolute chaos erupts in front of the MN net which allowed Loustarinen to get it past the goalie and into the back of the net; MN leads 4-2 which feels more manageable. The penalties wouldn’t go quietly into the night, though; Ekblad gets called for elbowing with 1:12 on the clock. The Cats would kill off the time remaining on the clock, but the Wild would start the 3rd period with a PP.
Stolarz made some amazing saves during the Wild PP, but it wouldn’t be enough as for the 5th time, Minnesota would score on a power play by Kaprizov. Kaprizov took advantage of players on the PK Unit being off to one side, leaving him with a lot of space to work with. That would be the last power play for either team as play finally cleaned up; 48 total PIM were called between the 1st and 2nd periods. Florida ramped up the offensive zone pressure in the 3rd, absolutely dominating the o-zone time and giving Minnesota nothing. Kulikov, Vehaeghe, and Mikkola and got shots off but they got saved, Bennett’s shot hit the post in what felt like the umpteenth post to get hit in the last week. It would be Ekblad to create the scoring chance, though; he took the shot, and Lundell got the rebound to the net with 11:55 left to play. They weren’t done as just 18 seconds later, Forsling scored to bring the Cats within one, 5-4 MN. A game that looked hopeless at the end of the 2nd suddenly was within grasp. Stolarz made another big save, lost his stick, and then made a second cover save with 7:31 on the clock.
The offensive pressure seemed unending from Florida, Ekman-Larsson with a pair of chances, Tkachuk’s went wide. Stolarz got called to the bench for the man advantage with around three minutes left. Every Panthers player on the ice was working hard in the offensive zone to try and tie it, Verhaeghe had a couple looks, Reinhart, Tkachuk. Gustavsson did make an impressive diving save on Bennett’s rebound chance. The Wild would seal the win with an empty netter, just over 11 seconds on the clock. Time ticked down and then ran out, Minnesota win what was a very chaotic and penalty-filled game. Florida’s specialty teams seem to be suffering without Barkov in the lineup. However, it was nice to see the improvement in the 5v5 play, which had been a weakness; Florida outscored the Wild 4-1 during 5v5. Lockwood ended up with a hearing with Player Safe; they determined he would be suspended for three games for the hit on Fleury. The Cats are headed to Nashville Monday night and will look to snap the four-game losing streak.