Florida Panthers Deep Dive Recap: 03/12-03/16/24

Sam Bennett ties the game against Dallas. Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Florida had a tough three games this week against playoff-caliber teams. This week wasn’t the Panthers’ best performance as they dealt with injuries as Aaron Ekblad is still out and then the Cats were playing without both Evan Rodrigues and Sam Bennett. Missing those pieces showed in the team chemistry and how Florida spent the whole week playing a step behind their opponents. Not once did they score the first goal or any of the first three goals scored in the matches, and they spent every game trying to claw their way back into it. Once they were successful but couldn’t overcome the deficit in the other two games. Florida had an incredible February, losing only two games in the entire month, but it was unreasonable to expect that level of consistency and play all the way to the playoffs. Better for the team to lose some games now and be able to learn from it than do it when the games really matter in the post-season. 

Dallas Stars:

Florida hasn’t seen Dallas since early December, when they took the 5-4 win on home ice. This time around, they traveled to Dallas for the only other match they’d play during the regular season. Bobrovsky was in the net for Florida, and Rodrigues was out for this game, so Kyle Okposo made his Panther debut by slotting in on the 3rd line. Ekblad was confirmed out for two weeks, which moves Ekman-Larsson up to play with Forsling, and Mahura steps in to play with Kulikov. The Forsling-OEL pairing started for the defense, and the Tarasenko line started upfront; Oettinger was in the net for Dallas. Forsling cut off a neutral zone pass before Montour’s shot was saved. Verhaeghe got a takeaway and passed it to Tkachuk, whose shot got saved, and then he got his own rebound chance, but that was saved as well. Bob made another good save with 17:28 to play and followed that up with a kick save. OEL made a great poke check to break up a Dallas chance. However,  the Stars would break the ice. A defensive breakdown by Florida led to a 2-on-0 chance for Dallas, Bob made the initial save but the Pavelski shot hit his stick and then bounced up and over his pad to go in giving Dallas a 1-0 with 16:01 left in the period. Bob then anticipated a Dallas pass and made a great glove save with 15:36 to go. Luostrainen tied up a Dallas player to prevent a 2 on 1 chance but got called for interference with 14:46 on the clock. Stenlund cleared the zone to start, but then Bobrovsky made a heroic save on a shot and a rebound chance. The Panthers clear the zone, and then OEL breaks up a pass to clear the zone again. Montour made one more clear before Reinhart got a short-handed chance that got saved and the penalty killed. It was all Dallas in the first half as Bob made more saves to keep things at just a one-goal deficit.

Florida got their first power play with 9:36 on the clock, as Duchene got called for hooking. The passing on the PP looked sharp. Tarasenko and Bennett both got shot chances, but the Stars were able to kill off the penalty. Forsling got one more shot that went high before Bob made another big save with 7:09 to go. The Cats finally got a little pressure on the Stars, with Verhaeghe and Montour both getting shots off. However, Dallas would prove to be the better team and was holding the zone with under seven minutes to play. Dallas came back with more pressure before Verhaeghe cleared to center ice. With four minutes to go, the Panthers finally got a good shift in the offensive zone, with Tkachuk, Stenlund twice, and Montour all getting shots off. Verhaeghe got called for hooking with 1:57 left and sent Dallas back on the power play. Reinhart and Barkov walked the puck in deep to start and then Florida cleared the break in. Luostrainen blocked a shot, followed by Bob making a save on a shot that had bounced off of OEL. Barkov and Reinhart got a short-handed chance but the drop pass to Kulikov missed. Bob made one more big save to end the first period, in a 1-0 deficit for Florida. 

The Cats killed the final seconds of the PP, but a misread of a play by the Panthers led to Bobrovsky making an early save on the 2 on 1 chance that developed. In the first period, Bob stopped 10 high-danger chances on 13 of the 14 shots he saw. Montour got a shot to the net, but it was saved, and then a good defensive play by Tarasenko stopped a Stars chance. Okposo took a shot from the blue line that got stick saved, and Verhaeghe’s shot went wide. Bob made two great saves on the first shot and the rebound chance with 16:44 on the clock. Things got chippy between the teams after Montour took a chop from Robertson, Tarasenko was quick to jump in to defend his teammate. The Panthers picked up the offensive shooting with Luostrainen, Bennett, Forsing, and Montour twice, Kulikov, and Tarasenko all getting shots off, but they either went wide or got saved. Kulikov got called for hooking with 12:26 to play. It didn’t take Dallas long to convert for a 2-0 lead. Bob made the initial shot save, but Roberston scored on the rebound, and then just 23 seconds later, Johnston scored again off a wrist shot that got deflected over Bob’s pad making it 3-0.

Poor puck management from Florida was currently costing them and had given them a big deficit to try and dig themselves out of. Kulikov and Montour both got shots to Oettinger but he saved them both. Tarasenko’s shot got deflected wide. Heavy contract on at an icing call led to a big fight between the teams with 8:29 on the clock; Marchment got sent to the box for roughing. Barkov’s powerplay shot was saved. Dallas was clogging things up around Reinhart, but it didn’t matter. Barkov to Tkachuk to Reinhart led to yet another powerplay goal for Reinhart and cut the deficit to two with 7:08 to play. That makes 46 goals on the season and 26 PP goals for Sam Reinhart. The physicality of the game was picking up, and Luostrainen got sent to the box for tripping with 6:17 left. Bob made a big save, Lundell deflected a shot wide, Mikkola blocked a shot, and then Stenlund cleared the zone. The Cats killed off the penalty and then made another offensive push. Florida held most of the O-zone time before Dallas got a final push in the last minute. Bob made a huge glove save with 17.2 seconds left, and then Stenlund got a final shot chance that Dallas blocked. Florida faced a 3-1 deficit heading into the 3rd period, but the game felt more manageable than the 3-0 deficit they saw at one point. 

Florida’s defense was looking better, with Bennett forcing a turnover and Mikkola breaking up a stretch pass. Tkachuk got a shot off that got cover saved, Barkov’s got stick saved, and the Montour’s got saved. A hook on Montour didn’t get called and neither did an obvious trip on Verhaeghe. Things went back and forth at the midway point of the period. A sharp angle shot from Luostarinen got deflected high before Roberston got called for holding with 9:07 to play. Verhaeghe made a shot through traffic and beat Oettinger, but it was Barkov who tipped it in, though that wasn’t known until after the fact, a 3-2 deficit with 8:51 on the clock. Kulikov’s shot got deflected wide and then Bennett blocked a shot in front of Bobrovsky. Lundell’s shot got glove saved before Tkachuk took a shot from the blue line that Bennett tipped in to tie the game with six minutes to play. Chris Tanev went to the box for tripping with 5:32 left in the period. Just 10 seconds into the power play, Barkov went to make a pass across the crease, but it bounced off a Dallas player’s skate and went in for Florida to take the lead for the first time, 4-3 with 5:22 left to play. Bob made some timely saves in the last five minutes when the Dallas pressure picked, especially after they pulled Oettinger for the man advantage. Reinhart’s empty net shot went just wide before Tkachuk blocked a shot, and Barkov blocked the final shot of the night. The Panthers held on to win 4-3. 

Carolina Hurricanes:

Florida headed back to Carolina for a rematch after the last meeting went scoreless for nearly the entire regulation time. It was a heartbreaking loss for the Panthers when the Hurricanes scored with 16 seconds left on the clock. With both Bennett and Rodrigues out the Cats middle two lines were completely shuffled around, Lundell moved up to center the Tkachuk line while Luostarinen centered the 3rd line, Cousins moved up to the 3rd line and Gadjovich was back in on the 4th line. Bobrovsky was in the net for Florida, the Barkov line started the offense, and Mikkola-Montour was the starting defensive pairing; Andersen was between the pipes for Carolina. Florida took control first, getting O-zone time in the opening minutes. Cousins took a shot from a sharp angle, but it was saved, and Montour got a shot to the net that was also saved. Things were physical early, with big hits on both sides. It didn’t take long for things to boil over as Aho and Tkachuk got into a fight over Aho taking an extra shot after a whistle had blown. Svenchnikov got the extra penalty for slashing, while Tkachuk and Aho got roughing penalties. Florida went on the power play first and got shots from Verhaeghe and Barkov but couldn’t convert any goals, Carolina killed the penalty. Cousins’s shot got deflected, and Mikkola’s went wide. Lomberg made a big hit, finishing a check by the player benches but he got called for charging. OEL and Kotkaniemi went at it after the Lomberg hit but no penalties for either of them. Kulikov cleared the zone first, followed by Reinhart clearing. Bobrovsky made two great saves, and the Cats killed off the penalty. Bob took a hit to the head, and then OEL went after Guentzel, but no penalties were called. Florida got a couple more shots toward the Carolina net but didn’t convert. Bob made two great saves with Tarasenko blocking a shot as well. Luostarinen & Montour’s shots both got saved. Tempers were still hot between the teams, with fights or scrapes breaking out after almost every whistle. Mahura got called for holding, sending Carolina to their second power play of the night. Bob made a great save with 4:47 on the clock, and the Luostarinen got a shorty chance that went high. The Panthers killed off the penalty. Carolina made an offensive push with three minutes to play, and despite Bob making two great saves, the Hurricanes would score with 48.6 seconds remaining. Jarvis’ shot went in bar down behind Bob. After the buzzer rang Tkachuk and Moesen got into a fight before getting pulled off the ice. 

Bob made a good save to start the 2nd period. Okposo made a big hit and then followed with a shot that went wide. Bob made another save through net-front chaos. However, Carolina would score again off a bouncing puck that went in for the 2-0 lead and 17:14 to play. In what would be a trend for the rest of the game, Florida struggled to get any o-zone time in the period, and Carolina had all the momentum. Bob made another blocker save, with Lomberg blocking the next shot. Mikkola broke up a Hurricanes’ play, followed by Bobrovsky making a save on a shot that was drop-passed. The Florida offense saw a little life, with shots from Reinhart, Tkachuk, and Okposo getting saved. An unfortunate misplay by Forsling had his puck reversal go past the Florida players and straight to Kuznetsov who shot it to score, 0-3 the lead for the Hurricanes and 11:33 to go. Florida was still struggling to exit their zone but got a shot from Okposo that got saved. Luostarinen saved a go by clearing the puck off the goal line after Bobrovsky had made the initial save. Carolina was using quick movement and passes to get past the Panthers, and the Cats weren’t picking up rebounding pucks while Carolina was. Verhaeghe and Montour both got shots off, but they didn’t convert.

Tkachuk and Necas had a big fight break out with Tkachuk eventually getting shoved into the Florida bench as a result of it. Tkachuk got a double major for slashing, while Necas got two minutes for slashing. Bob made great saves on the power play shots while the PK kept the Hurricanes to the outside part of the ice. OEL made a great poke check as the power play ended. Tarasenko had to chase down a missed pass before chaos in front of the net somehow didn’t result in a Florida goal. The Cats kept the pressure on in the last three minutes, but yet another fight broke out between the benches. Barkov’s shot hit the post and Mahura’s got blocked. One final fight of the period had Mahura and Chatfield going at each other; Mahura got two minutes for roughing, and Chatfield got four minutes for roughing with 1:13 to play. Barkov’s shot got deflected and hit the crossbar, Reinahart’s got blocked, and Verhaeghe’s chance got cut off as the period ended. There is another 3-0 deficit to try and crawl out of, but this time, they don’t have a 2nd period goal to make the game feel manageable. 

Florida started the 3rd period on the power play and got shots from Barkov and Reinhart but spent too much time passing, so Carolina killed the rest of the penalty. The Cats went right back on the PP when Aho tripped Lundell with 18:22 on the clock. Monitor and Reinhart got shots, but the Panthers couldn’t convert. Another fight broke out between Mikkola and Guentzel, but there were no penalties. Mahura did get called for tripping with 14:44 to go. OEL tipped a pass away and then cleared the zone, Mikkola got a short-handed chance, and then Bob made a couple of saves to kill off the penalty. More missed passes would plague the Panthers as they struggled to get O-zone time. Florida wasn’t getting any chances off of rebounds. Bob made a couple more great saves with just over five minutes to play. HC Paul Maurice pulled Bobrovsky with 4:45 to play, but just 30 seconds later, Carolina got an empty netter, although Montour tried to get to the puck and went crashing into the net himself. Over 35 games, this was just Florida’s 6th loss in regulation, and they haven’t lost in regulation in back-to-back games in over two months. A big hit on Kulikov led to Mahura and Staal fighting, and eventually, both teams got in on the action. Staal got 2 minutes for roughing, Mahura got 2 minutes for roughing, and 2 for cross-checking with 2:15 on the clock. OEL got a short-handed chance and Bob made a save as the PP ended. Carolina kills the rest of the clock to take the 4-0 win.

Tampa Bay Lightning:

Stolarz was out sick so Bobrovsky got his 3rd straight start this week, however, Bennett and Rodrigues were both back in the lineup. Mikkola-Montour started the defense with the Tkachuk line for the forwards; Vasilevskiy was in the net for the Lightning. Montour ended up in the wrong place at the wrong time as a shot from Stamkos bounced off Montour’s skate and scored just 20 seconds into the period. The Lightning held onto the o-zone time in the opening minutes leading to Bob making several great saves. Verhaeghe, Tarasenko, and Mikkola got the first shots for Florida but no goal reward. Stenlund took a hard hit from Dumba that earned him a roughing penalty and sent Florida on the power play with 14:18 on the clock. Verhaeghe’s shot hit the post and his second shot got saved. Reinhart and Montour both had shots get saved and then Bob made a save on a shorty chance. Bennett made one more shot before the PP ended but it went wide. Lomberg and Mahura both got shots off that go saved. Tampa Bay got extended time in the offensive zone at the midway point of the period. Stenlund broke up a drop pass but a stretch pass to Eyssimont got past the defense and his shot on the rebound made it 2-0 in favor of the Lightning with 6:36 to play. Bennett got called for slashing a minute later to send Tampa to the power play. But an odd play between Reinhart and Kucherov resulted in a 4v4 for a minute and 23 seconds as Reinhart got a penalty for tripping but Kucherov got a double minor for high sticking with 4:50 on the clock. Verhaeghe blocked a Tampa shot and the 4v4 got killed. Barkov was the only Panther to get a shot off during the PP and it got glove saved. Rodrigues had his first shot go wide, his second shot get saved and the resulting rebound turned into net front chaos. Perbix got called for a delay of game sending the Panthers back on the power play with 2:06 to play. Montour, Tarasenko, and OEL all got shots off but didn’t convert. At the end of 20 minutes, Tampa Bay led 2-0. 

Bob started the second with a pad save before Florida went on the attack to hold the o-zone for the opening three minutes. Reinhart & Forsling’s shots got deflected and then Mikkola’s went wide. For the 3rd straight game, the Cats would find themselves in a 3-0 hole when Raddysh scored with 16:58 to play. The Lightning made a quick transition in from the d-zone and a cross-ice pass to Raddysh led to the goal. Net front chaos brioche out in front of Vasilevskiy which led initially to a goal from Mahura. However, the play ended up under review when footage revealed that Kulikov had elbowed a Tampa player. Kulikov was given a 5 minute major and a match penalty for an illegal check to the head and the goal came off the board. Eyssimont was also given a two minute minor for roughing so play was 4v4 which was uneventful aside from a Barkov shot that went wide. Tampa then had three minutes left on the power play, a hooking call on OEL turned it into a 5v3 PP for the Lightning. Stamkos scored his second of the day off a one-timer shot with 13:01 on the clock and the 4-0 lead. Florida was able to generate a 3v1 short-handed which led to Tkachuk scoring his first short-handed goal of his career to cut the deficit to 3, 1-4 the score with 11:37 to go.

Tkachuk doesn’t typically kill penalties but with players out, he got the opportunity. More pressure from the Cats led to more SOG that got saved or deflected and then Tkachuk was able to draw a hooking penalty from Glendening. Montour’s shot was saved, Tkachuk’s was deflected, but it was Reinhart who found the loose puck in net front chaos to score with 8:05 on the clock, 4-2 the deficit for the Panthers. That puts Reinhart’s goal totals at 27 PP goals and 47 goals on the year. Florida generated more pressure as Tarasenko, Mahura, and Mikkola all got shots to the net that got saved. Montour went sprawling to the ice to block a shot and OEL blocked another shot. Lundell got tripped by Cernak with 4:33 to play. Over the previous four PPs the Panthers have had 10 SOG. Barkov’s backhand shot was stopped, Tkachuk’s one-timer got saved, and Verhaeghe’s shot hit the crossbar. Dumba got called for slashing giving the Panthers a 5v3, Reinhart’s chance got saved and Barkov’s hit the post. Tampa got short handed chances that Bob saved. Bennett got the last PP shot but didn’t convert. Florida out shot the Lightning 18-3 in the period but were down 4-2 heading into the last period. 

Florida started the third period strong getting the o-zone time first and getting shots from Mikkola, Bennett, OEL, Verhaeghe and Mahura but none of them found the back of the net. Bob made a kick save with 15:27 to play before the Panthers went right back into the offensive zone. Bennett had his shot saved and then Tkachuk made a reverse hit on Point. Lundell’s shot went high, OEL’s got saved, and then things the fans started to get hostile. Reinhart & Verhaeghe both got tripped but nothing was called by the refs leading to loud booing from the fans. 12:22 to go and Duclair got called for roughing. Barkov’s shot hit the post, Takchuk on the rebound chance got saved, Verhaeghe’s chance got saved. Rodrigues got one more shot that got saved before the PP ended. Special teams was now the name of the game as Bennett got called for holding with 10:16 to go.

Florida did a good job clearing the zone and blocking shots as they killed off the penalty. Forsling was the next player to go to the box this time for holding. Tkachuk was back out on the PK and they did their job and didn’t allow a single shot to kill the penalty. Reinhart made an extremely sharp angle shot from the goal line which hit the skate of Glendening to score his 48th goal of the season with 3:52 to go. Things got shady when HC Paul Maurice realized that Tampa was attempting to change lines after an icing call and he made sure the refs knew it. Florida had pulled Bob with about three minutes left in the game, however, the move didn’t pay off as Kucherov scored an empty netter with 1:32 to play. Bob headed back to the bench with just over a minute left. Reinhart’s shot got saved and Verhaeghe’s got blocked. Unfortunately, Verhaeghe then got called for closing his hand on the puck with 23 seconds on the clock. Mikkola and Dumba got into a scrap. A big collision by Lomberg and a Tampa player led to the Mikkola/Dumba fight which resulted in them getting tossed with game misconducts and Lomberg got called for kneeing. Time ran out and the Panthers took their second straight regulation loss in more than two months as Tampa Bay won 5-3 HC Paul Maurice wasn’t all doom and gloom though as he was happy with the team’s performance in the late stages of the game. The Cats get a few days off before playing Nashville on Thursday.

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