Florida Panthers Deep Dive Recap: 03/21-24/2024

Reinhart celebrates his goal in the first period against the Fliers. (AP Photo/Derik Hamilton) (Derik Hamilton / Associated Press)

Florida was in for another tough week against more Playoff-caliber teams. To say it was mixed would be an understatement. The game against Nashville was one of the worst the Panthers’ have played in weeks, but there was a visual improvement from game to game, culminating in the Cats finally snapping their losing streak against the Fliers on Sun ay. There was plenty to take away this week, but most of all, fans should note that the Panthers play a whole lot better when the lineup is healthy over playing injured or ill pl yers. Despite having as many as 6 regulars out of the starting lineup, the effort was visibly better when those on the ice wer 100%. Another big change was how the defense upped its game, and more players were sacrificing bodies to bloc shots. In every game this week, the Panthers either held the advantage in blocked shots or blocked the same number of shots as the pponent. While things started out poor this week, Florida was able to end the week on a high note. 

Nashville Predators:

Florida squared off against Nashville Thursday night on home ice. The Predators have been red hot over their last 15 games coming into this match, and they currently hold the 1st wild card spot i the West. Bobrovsky was in the net for Florida, while Lankinen was the goaltender fo the Preds. Kulikov started to serve his 2-game suspension leading to Uvis Balinskis getting the emergency call-up fro Charlotte. Barkov was also out of the lineup leading to a shake-up in the lines f r the Cats. Lundell went up to center the Reinhart line, Rodrigues moved up to the 2nd line, Luostarinen centered the 3rd line with Tarasenko and Cousins, and then HC Paul Maurice used the familiar 4th line of Gadjovich-Stenl nd-Lomberg. With two defensemen out, the bottom defensive pairing was Mahura-Balinskis, and while they have previous experience playing together, they haven’t played togeth r this season. In a surprising move, the 4th line started with Mikkola-Montour n the defense. Bob made an early stop, which Tarasenko followed up with a heroic move, clearing the crease on a shot that Bob had gotten a piece of but d dn’t fully stop. Florida then made an offensive push, getting shots from Stenlund, Lomberg, and Montour, but hey all got saved. Bob made a massive save with 16:11 left on the clock. Not long after that, a fight broke out between Zucker and Cousins, they dropped gloves off the faceoff and went at it; Both got 5 mi utes for fighting. Nashville got the first power play of the night after Verhaeghe got called for hook ng, 14:31 to play. OEL and Lundell clea ed the zone early. Forsling got another clear and then Mikk la blocked a shot. After one more clear, the Preds finally got some shots to the net but couldn’t get it past Bobrovsky. Forsling blocked a final shot to ki l the penalty off. Nashville kept the pressure on, leading to another blocked shot from Florida and m re great Bob saves. The save of the night came with 11:02 on the clock where Bob made a sliding kick pad save to rob ashville of a goal. Tkachuk made a shot that got saved, and then it was once again all Predators. Bob made a blocker save, along with other saves from the onslaught of shots from Nashville at the halfway point. Bobrovsky kept Florida in the game by saving shots left and right in the ba k half of the period. Only Bennett, OEL, and Tarasenko got shots to the net in the second half f the opening period. The Predators finally broke the ice with 2:13 to go when they took advantage of net-front chaos to work the puck thro gh and into the goal. Smith and Gadjovich got into the second fight of the night with 2:10 on the clock; Both were given 5 minutes for fighting and sent to he locker room early. With 28 seconds left, the Panthers drew a tripping penalty and go Josi sent to the box. Montour got a shot o f as the period ended. Nashville held the 0-1 lead heading into the 2nd period.

Florida started the 2nd period better, getting plenty of shot during the power play. Reinhart, Verhaeghe, Montour, and Tkachuk all got shots o f but couldn’t convert. The Cats held onto the O-zone after the end of the power play to get more pressure from Cousins, Balinskis, Mahura, and Luostarinen. Bob made a cover save followed by Verhaeghe and Tk chuk getting shots off. Bob made another great save but gave up a rebound, Verhaeghe was there to clear th rebound out of danger. OEL got called for hooking, sending the Preds to their second PP of the night with just under 6 and a half minutes gone. Stenlund got an early clear but the Preds scored nyway off a tipped shot. The goal was disallowed initially but got reviewed for being t uched with a high stick. Upon review, the call is overturned, and the goal stands, a 0 2 lead for the Predators. Bob made a couple more saves before Florida got pressure from Cousins, Luostarinen, Rodrigues, and Montour, but n goals to cut the deficit. A great rush entry for the Cats was whistled for offsi es when a pass was missed. Missed passes was a running theme Thursday night, which made the Panthers look sloppier than we know they can play. Bob made a save off a rebound chance, and then Florida made nother push into the o-zone. Lundell, Rodrigues, and Balinskis all got hots off but still no goals. Balinskis made a good defensi e play to break up a chance. Forsling clogged the passing lane on a 2 1 chance fo Nashville to save a goal. Bob made one final sa e before the period ended. A 0-2 lead for the Predators. 

It was looking like rinse and repeat as this was the 4th straight game where Florida had given up at least the first 2 goals, and it was looking like that win in Dallas might’ve been a fluke win. Josi took an early penalty for cross-c ecking with 19:07 to play. Once again there were plenty f shots on the power play. Tkachuk twice, Montour, Bennett, and Rodrigues all were able to get shots to the net but once again couldn’t convert; Nashvi le killed off the penalty. Things went back and forth after the power play, with both sides getting shot chances and making good def nsive plays to block shots. Bob made another s ve with 15:19 on the clock. Florida headed back into the O-zone to get chances by Tkachuk, OEL, Bennett, and Reinhart, b t no one could find the net. Luostarinen got called for slashing with 13:36 to play. Florida cleared the zone early which Stenlund followed with a great defensive play to br ak up a pass he anticipated. Bob made a save and then Bennett walked t in deep to the Preds zon . They kill off the penalty. Another errant pass wasn’t handled by Tkachuk, and then Bob made a other save with 9:29 to play. Mahura had a scary moment when he lost an edge and went awkwardly into the boards; he ended up being ok. Bob made more saves in the last 8 minutes of the game, with Nas ville holding the o-zone time. The Predators got one more goal once again off, working the net front chaos to get the puck through the 5 hole when Bob lost track of the puck, 5:41 to go in the period. A final push from Florida had shots from Mikkola, Mo tour, and Tkachuk but no goals. For the 2nd time in 3 games, Florida got shut out, and the Predators took the 0-3 win. 

New York Rangers:

Bob got his 4th straight start with Stolarz out with an illness; Sh sterkin was in on the other side. Florida had Gadjovich, Ekblad, Kulikov, Lomberg, Forsling, and Barkov all out wi h injury, illness, or suspension. This thre the lines back into utter chaos. The top line was Luostarinen-Lundell-Reinhart, 2nd line had Verhaeghe-Bennett-Tkachuk, 3rd line was Rodrigues-Stenlund-Tarasenko, and the 4t line had Cousins-Lorentz-Okposo. With half of the starting defense out, the parings were Mahura-Montour, Mikkola-Balinskis, and Bjornfot-OE ; Bjornfot made his Panther debut. Reinhart’s line started the forwards, wi h Mikkola-Balinskis on the defense. The opening minutes were back and forth before Bob made the first s ve of the night with 17:04 to play. Reinhart got a shot off that got saved before a slashing call on Gustafsson sent F orida to the first PP of the night. The missed passes were back as a drop pass that got missed left the zone, for ing the Cats to restart their entry. Tarasenko was fill ng in on the top PP unit for Barkov. The Rangers weren’t allowing the Panthers to get set up in the zone and killed off th penalty without allowing any shots. Bennett tipped an NYR pass out of the Cats’ zone allowing Stenlund to et a shot off that Shesterkin saved. For a nice change of pace, Florida cored first with 11:42 on the clock. Bennett won the board battle to get the puck to Mahura, who took the shot that Tk chuk then tipped in for the 1-0 lead. Florida kept the offensive pressure on getting shots from Rodrigues and Bjornfot. Mahura made a good defensive play to block a pa s on a 3 on 1 chance for the Rangers. At the midway point in the period Florida was holding the o-zone and using the good forech cking fans have become familiar with. The scouting did its job as sStenlund blocked a cross-ice ass that the Rangers like to utilize. OEL took a tripping penalty to prevent Trocheck from walking down the board into the Florida zone with 6:14 to play. Florida got plenty of clears to kill time and Bob made a save when they did get a shot off; Tkachuk was playing on the PK, something that only started during the Dallas game. The Panthers kill off the penalty, only allowing 1 SOG. A full team fight broke out with 3:15 to play after Tarasenko touched Shesterkin to set off the Rangers. It looked like NYR was going to tie the game when Bob got pulled out of position and down to the ice, but the Cats were there to clear the puck out of danger. NYR held the zone in the last two minutes of pla but Florida walked away with the 1-0 lead. It was a much better start for the Panthers and a visibly better effort than fans have seen over the last two weeks. 

The Cats wasted no time in the 2nd period, getting a 2 on 1 chance with Rienhart and Luostarinen that gave them the 2-0 lead. Reinhart’s cross-ice pass got past Fox for Luos arinen to score his 12th goal of the season. NYR made a push with Bob making a save and covering the rebound, Montour blocked a shot, nd Bob made a blocker save with 16:15 to go. Okposo had his shot blocked, and Cousins’ shot hit the post. New York got its second PP when Okp so got called for holding with 14:44 to play. While Bob made the initial saves, Fox scored off a shot that went in on the short side to ut the lead to 2-1 with 13:38 left in the period. Bobrovsky made a couple of great saves, but Panarin would tie the game off a one-timer shot with 11:37 left on the clock. Florida urned over the puck leading to the scoring chance. Heading to the midway point in the period, the Rangers have been the quicker team. The penalties continued for Florida as V rhaeghe got called for slashing with 10:34 to play. Bob made a save on Trocheck, Stenlund blocked a shot, and Bob ovsky made one more great save to kill the penalty. Goodrow got called for roughing a ter he pulled off Tkachuk’s helmet with 8:16 to go. Tkachuk’s shot got saved, Verhaeghe’s went high, and Bennett s tip-in got saved; the Rangers killed the penalty. Things went back and forth in the final 4 minu es with neither side getting significant zone time. Bjornfot’s shot got bl cked, and a clear trip on Bennett didn’t get called. The period ends with things tied 2-2. 

The start of the third saw things go back and forth. Lundell had his shot blocked, Bob made a save on Rempe, and then made two more quick saves when NYR ot some pressure with just under over 4 minutes gone. The Ranger pressure continued as Bob made another c ver save, and then Bjornfot and Mikkola blocked shots. Florida had gone more than 10 minutes without a SOG, Bobrovsky and the defense w re bailing the team out from being down a goal or two. Luostarinen blocked another shot before Bob mad another save, and the Panthers cleaned up the rebound. Montour cleared the zone to center, Bjorn ot blocked a shot, and then Luostarinen made a big hit. Florida f nally got some O-zone time with 5 minutes left to play. Verhaeghe held a puck into the O-zone and then took the shot to score with 4:08 on the clock. It was just the 2nd SOG for Florida in the period. Verhaeghe took the shot from the faceoff dot, and i went up over the glove hand and bar down into the goal. It’s worth noting that Verhaeghe would’ve scored in sever l games previously but Barkov kept tipping his shots in. The lead didn’t last long as Panarin tied the game back up with 3:25 to play. The net front chaos led to the uck hitting Stenlund’s foot and bouncing over Bob’s pad. Things were tied 3-3 at the end of regulation. Verhaeghe-Bennett-Tkachuk started for OT. Bennett had his shot saved, Bob made a great save on a Ranger shot, and Montour’s got blocked into the netting. Bob made a glove shave, OEL’s cha ce got saved, Bennett’s got blocked, Lunell’s got saved. Bob made one more save, and Montour got one last shot as OT ended. This game went the distanc to the shootout, where Zibanejad started for th Rangers. He scores but Reinhart responds by also scoring. Panarin outwaits Bob to score, Lundell’s shot missed, T ocheck’s shot got saved, and Tarasenko’s chance got saved. The Rangers take the 3-4 win in the shootout but this was a much better effort from Florida. 

Philadelphia Flyers:

After 4 straight starts for Bobrovksy, Stolarz got the st rt against Philly; Samstrom was in the net for the Fliers. The only change in the lines was that Lomberg was back in on the 4th line for Okposo, and on the defensive side, Kulikov was ba k playing with OEL; Sandstrom was in the net for the Fliers. Tkachuk’s l ne got the forwards started with OEL-Kulikov on the defense. The opening minutes saw a ot of skating up and down the ice but not a lot of shooting. During one play, Montour l st his stick but used his body to make a good defensive pl y. Cousins got the first SOG for either team which got saved. With 6 minutes gone, it’s st ll been back and forth with a lot of skating but no shooting. Blainskis locked a shot, and then Luostarinen intercepted a Philly ass. Reinhart got called for delay of game with 12:14 to play. Luostarinen made a great diving play to clear the zone prior to St larz making a save; It took the Fliers 8 minutes to get a SOG. Tkachuk clears the zone, Lu starinent clears to center, and Florida kills off the penalty. Stolarz made a massive save to keep things scoreless. But it didn’t stay scoreless f r long as Reinhart broke the ice with 9:26 left in the period. Cousins made a risky pass to Montour who, who got a rush chance with Lundell, and then a cross-ice pass to Reinhart set up the scoring chance. Brink gets cal ed for holding, sending Florida to the power play, 7:54 to play. Tkachuk, Verhaeghe twice, Montour, Tarasenko twice, and OEL all got shots off during the pow r play, however the shots went high, got blocked, and g t saved. The Cats spent the full 2 minutes in the Fliers o-zone. O L then gets called for interference with 5:25 left on the clock. The Panthers get clears from Stenlund, Kulikov, an Luostarinen, and they kill the penalty without allowing any SOG. The Fliers kept the o-zone after the penalty expired, which led to Stolarz maki g several saves, including a massive save at 2:48, stealing a goal. Lomberg took the next penalty with 2:14 on the clock after he g t called for roughing during an altercation behind the Florida net. The Panthers were blocking shots lef , right, and center during the PK before Stenlund cleared the zone. The Cats were prev ting the quick short passes around the net and killed the penalty.  The Fliers didn’t like a hit Tkachuk made at the end of the period, and an all-out brawl broke out between the teams. Verhaeghe ended up in a headlock while defending Balinskis, Tkachuk got ushered off the ice and received a minor for roughing, and Brink and York got minors for roughing so Florida starts the 2nd period on the power play and 1-0 lead.

Montour made a fantastic play to break up a short-handed chance by knocking the puck out of the air and then passed to Reinhart, who made a cross-ice pass to Tarasenko, who shot to score just 55 seconds into the period, a 2-0 lead with 19:05 to go. The Panthers were winning the special teams fight with a strong PK and now converting on the PP. Florida held onto the O-zone after the pe alty ended to get shots from Rodrigues and Cousins that both got saved. The defense was strong as Lomberg and Kulikov both made ood hits, and then Stolarz came up with a big save on the 2 o 1 chance. He used his big frame to get in front of the shot to stop it. Philly was using more stretch passes in the 2nd period but the Cats were clogging up the blue line, making zone entry not clean. Stolarz came up with anoth r big save as he stopped an initial shot, but the rebound hit the crossbar. Florida then made an offensive push with shot coming from OEL twice, Bennett, Tkachuk, and Verhaeghe but none converted. S olarz made back-to-back saves on a chance and a rebound with 12:10 to play. Stolarz was robbing players left and right as he made yet another highlight worthy ave with 11:43 to play; Rodrigues got called for slashing at the same ti e. Luostrainen made the quick clear, and then Stolarz made yet another save. Florida cleared, blocke a shot, and then Lundell cleared as he broke his stick to kill the penalty. Philly held the zone after the penalty expired nd tried to take advantage of the net front chaos but Stolarz made the save. The Panthers spent most of t e period in their own zone but their defense was up to par to keep the lead. Stolarz made another great save OEL made a good defensive hit, and Mahura & Bennett got clear of the zone. L ndell’s line finally got time in the offensive zone with 6 minutes to play. Mahura broke up a Fliers’ play, Cousins & Bennett b ocked shots, and Stolarz made a glove save on a shot right off the fa eoff. Reinhart had two chances at the end of the period but didn’t convert. The Panthers leave the period with a 2-0 lead. 

This was shaping up t be a repeat of the Tampa Bay game, but Florida was on the other side of it. They may not be getting the shot volume, but they were getting quali y chances and converting on them while Stolarz frustrated the Philly offense. This was a physica game as 10 different players had blocked 16 shots through 2 periods of play. Stolarz made a save and stopped the rebound, Mahura blocked another shot, and then Lorentz was able to track down a loose puck to clear the zone. But it was all Philly in the opening minutes as they held the O-zone to keep the Panthers on the defensive side of things. However, Montour and Bennett were able to get the puck to Verhaeghe on a b eakaway, who took the shot to score and made it a 3-0 lead with 15:17 to play. The Fliers went ight back to holding the o-zone, forcing Florida to play a more defensive game. Reinhart & Luostarinen blocked shots, and Stolarzm made a couple of saves. Tarasenko then m de a good defensive play, his defense has been good in the last couple of games. The Cats’ 3rd line finally got a shift in the O-zone and got a couple of shots to the net. 8:40 on the clock and Mik ola got called for slashing sending Philly to their 5th power play of the night. The Panthers got clears from Balinskis, Luostarinen, and Mahura to start t e PK. With 7:33 on the clock the Fliers pull their goalie for the 6v4 advantage. Brink finally got o e past Stolarz off a rebound chance, and at 7:06 on the clock, 3-1 the Florida lead. Kulikov got himself into a perfect position to deny another Fliers goal and then blocked a shot. With 3:34 to go in the per od, Philly pulled its goalie again, and Balinskis stripped the puc and cleared to center. Stolarz made a kick save and then Lundell broke up a Fli rs’ pass. Luostairnen had an empty netter chance but it was brok n up by Philly’s defense. Samstrom was back in the net for Philadelphia w th 2:30 to play. He didn’t stay there long as he got pulled one more ti e with 1:56 to go. Bennett’s shot went wide followed by Reinhart’s chance also going wide. Luostrainen got to the puck in the corner and worked it free through traffic to get it to Reinhart, who didn’t miss on his 2nd shot at the empty net to make it a 4 1 lead. That also makes Reinhart just the 2nd Panther to score 50 goals in a single season The majority of his goals have been from the power play, with 5 short-handed goals as well. Needless to ay, he’s owned special teams this season, and teams have had massive difficulty stopping him. Time ran out, and the Panthers f nally snapped their 4-game losing streak and their 2-game losing streak to the Fliers with a 4-1. Florida als set a franchise record for road game wins at 25 and Stolarz is on a career-best 6 straight wins. Stolarz’s stellar performance earned him 1st star ho ors, Reinhart was the 2nd star, and Montour got the 3rd star with his 3-point night, all assists. This is a 4-game week for the Panthers, Tuesday night they’ll see the Bruins, Thursday is the Islanders, and Saturday they play the Red Wings all on home ice.

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