Florida Panthers Deep Dive Recap: 03/26-30/2024

Bobrovsky makes the game-winning save in the shootout. (AP Photo/Jim Rassol)

The last three games of March were a tough batch for the Panthers. The undisciplined play led to penalties that cost them at least one win, coupled with an unfair call by the officials that handed a win to the Islanders, which meant that the Cats lost two out of the three. They did end the week on a high note by beating Detroit in a shootout and, after a poor first period, were back to playing their game. Aaron Ekblad reentered the lineup after getting injured at the start of March, his presence on the ice has been missed and steadied out the defensive pairings. Overall, there were plenty of good and bad things to take away this week as we head into the final three weeks of play before the playoffs start.

Boston Bruins:

Benders: Are the Boston Bruins built to win physical hockey games?

Florida wanted to keep up the momentum coming off their win against the Fliers. The animosity between the Panthers and the Bruins, especially after last season, was still palpable in the air as both teams took the ice. HC Paul Maurice was still adjusting the forward lines, the top line had Rodrigues-Barkov-Tarasenko, the second line was Verhaeghe-Bennett-Tkachuk, the third line was Luostarinen-Lundell-Reinhart, and the fourth line was Cousins-Stenlund-Lorentz. Ekblad was still out this match, so the defensive pairings were Forsling-Montour, Mikkokla-Balinskis, and OEL-Kulikov. Bobrovsky was in the net for the Cats, with Swayman as the goalie for the Bruins. This was Barkov’s first game back, and immediately, he made an impact. His line took the opening shift for the forwards and got into the offensive zone. Tarasenko’s forechecking led to an opportunity with a loose puck in front of the net that allowed Rodrigues to score just 25 seconds into the period for the 1-0 lead. It didn’t take long for things to turn nasty between the teams as Wotherspoon punched Tkachuk near the Boston bench, setting off the first fight of the night; Bennett jumped into things to defend his teammate. Wotherspoon got a double minor for roughing while Bennett got a minor for roughing, 18:50 to play. The Bruins’ PK did a good job of not allowing Florida to get set up and were able to kill off the penalty. The heavy forechecking from the Cats was present early, and Tkachuk nearly scored off an error made by Swayman. More Florida pressure came from Bennett, Montour twice, and Forsling but all the shots got saved. As Marchand went down to the ice, he high-sticked Mikkola, but no call was made. Bob made his first save of the game on Pastrnak. Florida was having success when they got the puck in behind the defense and used a lot of speed with the forechecking. Bob made a great save that Reinhart followed up with a good defensive play to disrupt Boston’s chance on a rebound. Bobrovsky then made a huge save with 9:00 on the clock. Tarasenko’s shot went wide, while Balinskis took a sharp-angle shot that also went wide. Bob made a good save on Morgan Geekie, and then Tarasenko took a big hit that left him a bit shaken up afterward. With 6:01 left in the period, Lundell got called for hooking. Florida cleared the zone early, and when Boston reentered, Reinhart was hounding McAvoy. The Panthers cleared again before the Bruins got a couple of shots that Bob saved. Luostarinen cleared the zone again before a final clear by the Cats killed off the penalty. Boston got more offensive pressure after the penalty, but Bob was there to make the saves, including a great kick save on a deflected puck. The Panthers wouldn’t keep the lead, however, as McAvoy scored with 2:17 to play. The Bruins used quick puck movement to pull Florida out of position and gave McAvoy a wide-open net to shoot at. However, things didn’t stay tied for long. Luostarinen’s first pass to Reinhart got blocked back to him, but his secondary pass got through, and Reinhart took the shot to score for the 2-1 lead and his 51st goal of the year, 1:04 on the clock. Time wound down, and Florida left the period with a 2-1 lead despite Boston holding the advantage in shots, hits, and blocked shots. 

The 2nd period started slow as Boston iced the puck three straight times. Montour created pressure in the o-zone before the Bruins cleared down toward Pastrnak. Kulikov was there and won the footrace to keep the puck away from him. Kulikov then blocked Geekie’s shot followed by Bobrovsky making a glove save with 16:25 to play. Lorentz just threw the puck toward Boston’s net and nearly scored, but Swayman made the save. Mikkola’s shot went high, and Florida was holding the o-zone time in the opening 6 minutes to pressure Boston. A second fight kicked off with 14:49 on the clock, a full team fight with the Bruins especially going after Tkachuk. Bennett had pulled Lindholm away from the pack, however, Lindholm took a shot at him and that set Bennett off. Bennett didn’t hold anything back when throwing his punches at Lindholm, both got 5 minutes for fighting. Those two being off the ice didn’t curb the fighting either, as Reinhart got into a fight at center ice with a Boston player. A collision between Boqvist and Tkachuk set off yet another fight as Carlo took exception to what happened and went after Tkachuk. Beecher got called for slashing with 12:45 to go. Reinhart took a big hit from McAvoy, Montour got a shot that got saved, and Verhaeghe’s chance on the rebound was saved. Reinhart’s shot got blocked away, and then another fight broke out around the Boston net after Reinhart bumped Swayman. An utterly bizarre call got made on Tkachuk for high-sticking, except he wasn’t anywhere near where the high stick happened, it was Reinhart’s stick but Carlo had lifted Reinhart’s stick into McAvoy’s face. Fans were unhappy with the call and booed loudly. They played 4v4, which was uneventful, and then led into a Boston power play. Luostarinen cleared the zone first and then knocked the puck off of Pastrnak’s stick. Bob made a save off a one-timer shot. Yet another fight started, this time between just Marchand and Mikkola. Both players got double minors for cross-checking and roughing with 9:17 to play. Forsling’s shot deflected high, Montour’s went wide, and Verhaeghe’s shot got saved. Florida made a critical error and lost track of Pastrnak, who had a wide-open net to shoot at and tied the game 2-2 with 4:01 to go. The Panthers pushed back, getting shots from Rodrigues and Stenlund, but both shots went wide. Rodrigues got another shot off that went high as the period ended. Things were tied at the end of the 2nd period, 2-2. 

Forsling pressured Pasternak at the start of 3rd period before Florida got time in the O-zone. Mikkola and OEL’s shots got blocked. The opening minutes saw a lot of back and forth with not a lot of zone time for either side. Luostarinen did good work in the board battle and got the puck to his teammates. Forsling got two shots off that got blocked and deflected wide. Bobrovsky made a save with 13:24 to play in the period. Marchand got a breakaway chance but ran into the Florida defense that was able to break it up. Mikkola made a big hit, and Forsling blocked a shot; both sides were playing clean hockey and went 8 and a half minutes without a whistle. Bob made another save on Pastrnak, and then OEL blocked a shot from Coyle. An odd man rush through the neutral zone led to Verhaeghe taking an impressive shot through Carlo’s legs as he used him as a screen and scored to give Florida the lead 3-2, with 10:07 to play. Stenlund got called for slashing with 8:49 on the clock. Bob made a save before Marchand was called for interference, he broke Forsling’s stick. The teams played 4v4 for 1:37 and then a 22 second power play for Florida. Bennett and Verhaeghe got shots off during the 4v4, and then Boston killed the penalty. Rodrigues got called for delay of game with 5:43 left in the period. Stenlund had a short-handed chance that got saved, Forsling broke up Boston’s zone entry, and Stenlund then stole the puck away to clear the zone. Bob made a massive save with 4:38 to play that sent the puck up and over the net. Luostarinen lost his edge at the blue line, and that unfortunately allowed Marchand to settle the puck to pass to Frederic, who scored to tie 3-3. Bob used a poke check to clear a puck wide, and Mikkola blocked a shot. Florida, however, couldn’t clear their zone, and a pass from Pastrnak to Zacha bounced off his skate and into the net to give Boston the 4-3 lead. Kulikov thought he had Zacha tied up enough to be clear of the net, but the puck barely squeaked in with 2:12 to play. Bob got pulled with 2:11 on the clock to give Florida extra offensive pressure. Montour had his one-timer saved, Tarasenko had a couple of chances that got saved, and Tkachuk couldn’t jam in a loose puck in front of the Bruins’ net. Barkov got one more shot as the time ran out. After the buzzer sounded, Boston once again went after Tkachuk to set off one more fight. Florida drops the game 4-3. 

New York Islanders:

Despite a tough loss to Boston, the Panthers had the opportunity to clinch a playoff spot Thursday night. Stolarz got the start against the Islanders with Verhaeghe’s line for the forwards and Forsling-Ekblad as the defense; Varlamov was the starting goalie for the Islanders. The Islanders are one of the best shot-blocking teams in the NHL which posed a problem for Florida all night. Barkov got a shot off a giveaway, but Varlamov made the save in the opening 3 minutes. Things went back and forth in the opening minutes before Barkov’s shot opportunity. Tkachuk got taken down in the corner, but the officials didn’t make a call. Verhaeghe got a couple of shots toward the net that got blocked and glove saved. Cousins made a steal and sent it toward the net but it got blocked, Kulikov’s one-timer shot got glove saved. OEL’s shot was saved before the Islanders nearly iced the puck. Verhaeghe picked up a stretch pass, and his shot went high. After nearly 6 minutes gone, Stolarz finally made his first save as the Panthers held most of the zone time. The Panthers head back into the O-zone, where OEL’s shot deflected wide. Reinhart got cross-checked, but the officials didn’t call it. Stolarz stopped the Islanders’ backhanded shot, but at 12:11, New York scored. Stolarz believes he got interfered with, and Florida challenged the call. Upon review, the call is overturned and things stay scoreless. Tarasenko sends the puck toward Barkov, but it ends up going in the net instead for the 1-0 lead with 11:47 left in the period. Things go back and forth at the midway point of the period after Tarasenko’s goal. Tkachuk took a shot right at the crease, but it was saved. The Islanders tied the game at 1-1 with 6:40 left on the clock. With Florida being so aggressive, they got pulled out of position, giving New York plenty of time and space to shoot the puck. Net front chaos in front of the Islanders net gave Florida an opportunity but too many bodies prevented the Panthers from putting it into the net. Forsling’s one-timer shot blocked and his secondary shot also got blocked. Stolarz made a good save, and then there was shoving between the Cats and the Islanders with 3:48 to go. Stolarz made the save within the last minute of play as things went back and forth in the final stint. Things are tied 1-1 at the end of the first period.

Tkachuk got called for hooking 34 seconds into the period giving the Islanders their first power play of the night. Stolarz made a big save on a shot in close quarters. Forsling clears the zone after the Cats put a lot of pressure on New York. Kulikov cleared the zone again, and Barkov also got a clear. Luostarinen gets the puck and skates it quickly into the Islanders’ zone and his shot gets saved. Florida clears the penalty and then Stolarz makes a great glove save with 17:03 to go. A big hit by Lundell gets called for cross-checking with 15:50 left to play. Ekblad clears the puck in deep to the Islanders’ zone. Sotlarz saved a shot, and then Forsling broke up a pass. Luostarinen blocked a shot and then Florida cleared. Florida killed off the penalty, and Stolarz had 3 saves on the PK. Reinhart to Barkov to score with 13:38 to go. Florida picked up a puck in open ice and made a good transition play to take the 2-1 lead. That puts Barkov at 19 goals on the season and 700 career points. Tkachuk’s shot got deflected, but then the Islanders tied the game off a deflected puck with 11:17 to go in the period. Things go back and forth at the midway point in the period. The Islanders score with 9:18 to play in the period. Bennett got tripped before the goal happened, but no call was made. Unhappy fans were chanting “Refs you suck”, HC Paul Maurice challenged the play for goaltender interference, and there was contact from the Islanders player. The officials rule a good goal in a confusing call against the Panthers. The Islanders go on the power play after the failed challenge. Stenlund clears the zone and the PK does a good job of pressuring New York. Florida kills off the penalty and keeps it at a one-goal game. Following the PK, things go back and forth in continuous play with 6 minutes left in the period. Lundell had his shot blocked followed by Stolarz making a couple of saves. OEL got hooked, and it didn’t get called by the refs. Stolarz made a save on the wraparound chance, and then shoved from the Panthers as a New York player was in Stolarz’s space. Florida not holding the offensive zone in the last two minutes. Yet another contact from an Islanders player with no call led to Stolarz having words with the nearest official. Reinhart made a shot in the last minute from the slot that got saved. New York leads going into the 3rd period 2-3, heading into the last twenty minutes of play. 

Florida’s forechecking wasn’t as present in the 2nd period as in the 1st. Tarasenko gets a shot off early that gets saved. HC Paul Maurice adjusted the forward lines for the 3rd period to try and get an offensive spark. OEL’s shot got blocked, and then New York cleared the zone. Florida goes after the Islander player who was near Stolarz. OEL goes to the box for roughing with 17:27 left in the period. Ekblad made a big shot off a New York shot that stung him in the leg. Barkov works up the ice and passes to Reinhart, whose shot goes high. Lundell got a short-handed chance as the PP ended, but it was saved. Stolarz made a couple of saves on the Islanders’ shots. Full team fight after another contact from MacLean with Stolarz once again wasn’t called by the refs. None of the contact with Stolarz has been called all night so the Islanders keep doing it. Reinhart’s shot went high, and then Barkov’s shot got blocked. Forsling’s shot got saved, and Cousins couldn’t put it away on the rebound chance. Montour’s shot goes wide and then a penalty finally gets called on the Islanders. Tkachuk took a shot at the blue line and Luostarinen couldn’t put the rebound to the net. Reinhart’s shot gets saved, and then Bennett’s shot goes wide. 10:43 Horvat got called for slashing, fans were unhappy with the possession touch call as it was a delayed penalty. It wasn’t possession or even close to being possession for the Islanders. Barkov’s one-timer shot gets glove saved, Tkachuk’s chance couldn’t go in, Reinhart’s chance got saved. The power play got killed, but the Panthers got 3 SOG. OEL’s shot gets deflected wide, and Florida holds the O-zone. Forsling’s shot gets blocked, and his secondary shot gets deflected wide. At 5:30 left in the period, Reinhart gets called for high sticking double minor. Ekblad clears the zone, then Lundell clears, and then Tkachuk gets a short chance that goes off the mask of Varlamov. Stolarz makes the save with 3:33 left to play in the period. Barkov clears the zone and kills off the first half of the double minor. Florida kills off the double minor, Reinhart takes a shot out of the box but breaks his stick, and then Stolarz is pulled for the extra man. Verhaeghe’s shot was saved, Tarasenko’s shot was saved, and another Florida shot was saved with 5 seconds left. Fight behind the Islanders’ net after Tkachuk goes after a loose puck. Time runs out and New York gets the 2-3 win over Florida. Since the Detroit Red Wings lost to Carolina, the Panthers also clinched a playoff spot.

Detroit Red Wings:

After a disappointing loss to the Islanders, the Cats were back in action against the Red Wings. Barkov’s line started with Forsling-Ekblad on the defense and Bobrovsky in the net; Alex Lyon was between the pipes for Detroit. An early shot from a Detroit player hit their own player, Larkin, in the leg and sent him down to the ice. Larkin was helped off the ice by Detroit medical staff and down the tunnel as he couldn’t put weight on his leg. When play resumed, Florida made a quick breakout and had their first shot go wide. Lorentz held the puck in the o-zone, which allowed Montour to get a shot off that got blocked, Stenlund’s got saved, and Cousins, on the rebound, couldn’t get a shot off. Bob made a great save with 15:16 to play in the period. Florida got more offensive pressure from Reinhart twice, Montour’s one-timer, and Barkov’s shot which went wide. Things went back and forth, with both sides getting shot chances and the goalies making the saves. Florida’s defensemen were getting caught up too high in the o-zone and allowing Detroit too many odd-man rushes. Lundell got called for holding with 9:47 to play in the period. Forsling blocked a shot, but a quick cross-ice pass to Fabbri gave him enough net to shoot at to score and take the 0-1 lead with 9:21 left to play. Bennett and Tkachuk forced a turnover that led to a scoring chance, but they weren’t able to convert. Lorentz got a questionable hooking call with 7:25 left. Florida got a couple of shorthanded shots from Mikkola that got blocked and saved. The Panthers killed off the penalty, and Lorentz made a heads-up play right out of the box and got the wraparound chance that Lyon saved. Luostrainen continued the pressure with his shot getting tipped wide, Reinhart’s got blocked as did Kulikov’s. Tkachuk got taken down in the corner, but no penalty was called. Bob made a cove save with 1:47 left in the period. Florida took bad penalties this period and it’s killed any offensive rhythm they’re trying to find. Bennett, Verhaeghe, and Tkachuk get the last shots of the period but don’t find the back of the net. Detroit leads 0-1 after twenty minutes of play. 

Larkin was back on the ice for Detroit in the 2nd period. HC Paul Maurice adjusted the forward lines and put Verhaeghe-Barkov-Reinhart together, Cousins-Bennett-Tkachuk, Luostarinen-Lundell-Tarasenko, and Rodrigues-Lorentz-Stenlund. Tkachuk got a chance off a turnover that got saved. Lundell’s shot got saved, OEL’s got blocked, and Ekblad’s went wide. Florida stopped a Detroit breakout attempt in the neutral zone. The Red Wings got some o-zone time where Mikkola and Kulikov blocked shots. The Panthers got right back into the O-zone with Ekblad, Forsling, and Reinhart all getting shots off but didn’t tie the game. Bobrovsky made a massive kick save with 13:36 on the clock. The Cats continued to dominate the o-zone with Mikkola, Tarasenko twice, Forsling, and Montour all getting shots but they got blocked or saved by Lyon. Montour came the closest to tying the game as his shot hit the post. The only power play Florida got came off a delay of game penalty with 10:32 to play. The PP got plenty of pressure with Tkachuk twice, Verhaeghe twice, Barkov, Montour, and Tarasenko all getting shots off. Reinhart had all four Red Wings players hounding him in the slot. Barkov came the closest to scoring as his shot hit the post. Detroit killed off the penalty. Bobrovsky made a series of shots as the Red Wings got o-zone time with 8 minutes to play in the period. Perron took a shot with Mikkola which led to Bennett going after him and them getting into a fight. Perron got called for interference, while Bennett got called for roughing 12:44 into the period. Florida did hold the offensive zone but didn’t get any significant shots, the 4v4 got killed by both sides. The offensive domination continued from the Cats, Bennett, Forsling, Ekblad, and Barkov all got shots off but the Detroit defense blocked them or deflected them wide. It looked like Detroit had scored again. However, the goal had been knocked off, and the officials went to review for continuous play. They ultimately ruled that the net was knocked off before the possible goal, and Kulikov got called for interference with 2 minutes left in the period. Forsling blocked a shot, Luostarinen got a shorty chance, Bob made a great stick save, and Reinhart got a short-handed chance that Lyon saved. Detroit held the 0-1 lead heading into the final period. 

Florida killed off the last four seconds of the penalty and then headed back into the Detroit zone for offensive pressure. Montour’s shot got saved and was loose around the net, while Cousins tried to get to it Lyon ultimately saved it. The Red Wings defense was playing aggressively to hold the lead in the final frame. The Panthers were getting the chances but not the puck bounces. Barkov’s shot got stick saved, another shot deflected high, Lundell’s got saved, and Rodrigues’ chance got blocked. Florida continued to pressure, getting chances from OEL, Montour, Cousins, and Verhaeghe, but they couldn’t find the back of the net. The officials didn’t call an icing and let go a collision that happened to fans displeasure and they started booing loudly. Ekblad and Larking got into a fight with 9:45 to play and the refs called Ekblad for cross-checking even though there’d been plenty of pushing and shoving that they’d let go. Fans unhappy will the call started chanting, “Refs, you suck,” as the Cats killed off the penalty. The penalty wasn’t all bad, though; Ekblad got a go-ahead play right out of the box and got the puck to Barkov, who was coming up the ice. Barkov would take the shot and score to tie the game 1-1 with 7:39 to play. Bob made two great saves on an initial shot and a bouncing rebound. More nastiness occurred with 5:35 to play when Ekblad and DeBrincat got into a fight. DeBrincat tried to pull Ekblad from the officials and all three of them ended up on the ice at one point. Both players got called for roughing, so things were 4v4. Barkov came up big again as he muscled his way through pressure and used his long reach and stick skills to push a puck through the 5-hole to take the 2-1 lead with just under 5 minutes to play. A Montour hip check got called for tripping in what was a questionable call by the refs. Fans were unhappy with that call and booed once again. Things were 4v3 as the roughing minors hadn’t ended yet. Larkin would tie the game up off of a one-timer shot that bounced off the goal post and in on the short side. Florida made another offensive push in the last minutes of the game to try and retake the lead but this game headed into OT instead. Just 34 seconds into OT, Barkov got called for tripping, leading to a big PK shift from the Cats. Florida did a good job of keeping the zone clear but DeBrincat did get one shot off that hit the post and went wide. Penalty killed, play continued but no one was able to get one past the goalies. This game would be decided in a shootout. Reinhart was up first and scored off a shot that went up and over Lyon’s shoulder. He would be the only one to score as Bobrovsky stopped all 3 Detroit shooters, and Lyon stopped the other two Panthers. Florida walked away with the 4-3 win to end the month on a high note. 

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