Florida Panthers Deep Dive Recap: 12/27-12/30

barkov, reinhart, and verhaeghe celebrate after reinhart scores

Sergei Bobrovsky. Aleksander Barkov. Sam Reinhart. These three players have been massive for the Panthers this week during their matchups with in-state rival the Tampa Bay Lightning, Metro Division leader the New York Rangers, and the Montreal Canadiens. Bobrovsky has been in Playoff form, and Barkov & Reinhart are arguably the hottest forward pairing in the NHL right now. The Panthers’ top line has torn up teams this week, with no one having many answers for the lethal pairing who are playing at such a high level right now, and we’re not even to the All-Star break yet. Bobrovsky has bailed the team out when bad turnovers have led to dangerous scoring chances for opposing teams. Now let’s learn more about how this week’s games have gone, the good and the bad.

12/27 Tampa Bay Lightning:

Coming into this game, the Panthers were one point ahead of Tampa Bay in the standings and sitting in 3rd place in the Atlantic Division, so this was an important game for both teams to win. Head Coach Paul Maurice celebrated his 1,800 career game & the second line of Verhaeghe-Bennet-Tkachuk with defensive pairing Mikkola-Montour took the opening shift and Bobrovsky in the net. The Lightning got a shot off early, but Bob made the save. The Panthers win a face-off in the offensive zone, which goes to Gustav Forsling, who passes it to Aaron Ekblad. Ekblad takes the shot and beats Vasilevskiy to score, 1-0 to the Cats with 15:44 left in the first period. Tampa Bay gets a power play off of a holding call on Dmitry Kulikov, so the Panthers PK goes to work. The Florida penalty kill has been no. 1 in the NHL for the last five weeks, sitting at 92.2%. Florida gets extended offensive pressure at the midway point in the period. Tampa manages to get some time back in the Panthers’ zone, but Bobrovsky makes the saves. Florida comes back with more extended pressure with seven minutes left in the period. However, a tripping call on Barkov sends the Lightning to their second power play of the night. A couple of dangerous shots from Tampa, including a one-timer by Cirelli, get saved by Bob. At the end of the first period, Florida leads 1-0.

The Panthers open the second period with a goal from Sam Reinhart off of a pass from Barkov with 18:36 left. After the goal, the Panthers got more extended offensive zone time, but Tampa Bay responded with their own offensive pressure with 15:40 left in the period. Bob has a couple of kick saves during the stint, including a good rebound kick save. Tempers start to flare between the two teams as Mikkola and Nicholas Paul face off and get a bit shovey. Bennet got two minutes for roughing, Hagel got two minutes for interference, and the teams go to some four on four action. The Lightning take control in the Panthers zone, a slap shot goes wide right next to the net. Bobrovsky does the splits to stop the rebound from sneaking in. Barkov gets a breakaway that gets stopped. Tampa then answers with some dangerous chances, but Bobrovsky makes the huge saves to keep Florida in the lead. Brayden Point gets a tripping penalty, and Florida goes to the PP. The Lightning, however get a very dangerous shorty attempt, and Bob bails out the Panthers with a great glove save. At the end of 2 periods, the Panthers led 2-0. 

Unsurprisingly, Tampa came out in the third with a lot of energy and scored just 29 seconds into the period. The Panthers mishandled a shot from the Lightning. Mikkola goes to kick the puck clear, but it goes right to Nikita Kucherov, who scores. Cirelli takes exception to a hit from Ekman-Larsson, and a fight breaks out, leading to a Tampa power play. Cousins & Ekman-Larsson in the box for roughing, and Paul Maurice is not happy with the call by the refs. Stamkos gets a one-timer shot off, but Bob is there for the save. Barkov gets a breakout and passes to Reinhart, who outbattles the Lightning to score a shorty, 3-1 lead for the Cats. The shorty doesn’t discourage Tampa as they get a response goal from Michael Eyssimont, who shoots and then works the rebound that went right back to him for the goal. The Panthers get some offensive zone pressure and a couple of shots; a shot from Barkov hits the post with 10:10 left to go. Tampa goes on the offensive and looks to tie up the game, but Bob comes up with a big glove save, robbing them of the chance with 9:44 left. Another fight breaks out after Stamkos’ stick goes into Ekblad’s face, Florida to the Power Play. The Cats got a couple of good shots off, but Vasilevskiy had great saves to counter. Tampa Bay kills the power play and with 1:27 left to go, they pull Vasilevskiy for the man advantage. Reinhart makes a pass to Barkov, and he immediately gets tripped; the Panthers will end the game on the Power Play. The Cats kept the puck possession to the outside to chew up the clock for the big win over Tampa Bay; 3-2 was the final score. With the win, Florida is now 17-0-1 when leading by two goals.

12/29 New York Rangers:

Back in action on Friday night, this time on home ice, Florida faces down one of the best teams in the NHL, the New York Rangers. The no. 1 Power Play vs the no. 1 Penalty Killer, a battle of the special teams. I tend to believe that defense is the biggest difference maker between winning and losing, especially when hockey is a game of inches. Bobrovsky was back in the net for the Panthers, and Jonathan Quick was between the pipes for the Rangers. The Rodrigues-Barkov-Reinhard line took the starting shift for the Cats to get them early offensive zone time. Bennet, Kulikov, Ekman, and Londell all get shots off, but they get either blocked or knocked wide. Cousins shot looked like it was sure to go in yet Quick made an unreal play by kicking his leg up to knock the puck away. Kevin Stenlund gets a penalty, sending New York to their first power play of the night. The penalty kill has been very aggressive from the Cats, and that’s made it hard for opposing teams to gain entry into the zone while also creating short-handed scoring chances. The Rangers get a breakaway chance; however, Bobrovsky is there with the save. Montour gets hooked by Vincent Trocheck to give the Cats their first power play of the night. While the Panthers spend most of the power play in the offensive zone and Rodrigues gets a shot from the slot off, Jonathan Quick has made the saves, or the Rangers have put bodies on the line to block pucks. New York returns the favor by getting a dangerous shot off, but Bob is there to make the big save to keep it scoreless. Rodrigues finally opened the scoring with a shot on the short side top shelf, and Barkov got the assist. At the end of the first period, Florida leads in shots on goal 11-10 and offensive zone time 10:21 minutes compared to just over five minutes for New York. 

The Panthers’ top line of forwards took the opening face-off in period 2. The Rangers spend most of the opening five minutes in the Cats zone with some dangerous shot chances, including a wrister shot from Erik Gustafsson. Bobrovsky comes up with some big saves during the stint, notably a save on a Rangers breakout and a shot got off a turnover from Verhaeghe with 15:50 left in the period. The Rangers get another dangerous shot that ends up hitting Bob’s glove, then the crossbar and rebounds just in front of Bob’s leg to keep the Florida lead. Barkov gets a steal and takes his shot that ends up hitting the post. On a secondary chance a little bit later, Barkov sets up who else but Reinhart, who scores 2-0 lead with 12:48 to go in the period. A shot for Tkachuk and a Rangers breakaway both get stopped by the goalies, who both look sharp. Londell gets a penalty for roughing Jonny Brodziski, giving New York a power play chance. Aggressiveness is the name of the game for the Florida penalty kill, and it serves them well, denying the Rangers zone entries and not allowing a single shot. With the penalty killed the Cats go on the offensive and gain some extended offensive zone time, shots by Montour and Forsling get blocked and saved. New York comes back with Panarin who shoots to score after the Panthers have a bad turnover by failing to clear their zone with 6:37 left in period 2. Another turnover by Florida gives the Rangers a two on one odd-man rush and another goal, this time scored by Cuylle, and just like that, the game is tied 2-2, 5:24 to go. It should be noted that the Rangers are one of the best comeback teams, as demonstrated by this sequence. New York nearly takes the lead. However, Bob makes the big save to keep the game tied. The battle of the specialty teams continues as Schnider goes to the box for interference on Barkov. Once again, Barkov and Reinhart came up big for Florida. Barkov took the shot & Reinhart tipped in it for the power play goal, 3-2 Panthers as the period ended

The first half of the third period was spent with extended offensive zone time for both teams, first Florida and then New York. A Rangers player runs over Bobrovsky which made tempers flare on the Florida side. Big saves from Bob at 11:21, and at 10:19, Verhaeghe then gets an opportunity but his shot goes wide. Barkov takes a shoulder to the face from Vincent Trocheck; it’s initially ruled as a five-minute major and then gets reviewed. Upon review, the refs knocked it down to a two-minute minor for a check to the head; Paul Maurice and the fans were very open with their displeasure at the reduction. The Rangers jumped on a loose puck during the power play and scored with a one-timer from Mika Zibanejad, tying the game at 3-3. Verhaeghe, with the assists from Matthew Tkachuk & Forsling, scores on the stick side of Quick. With a 1:40 left the Rangers pull Quick for the man advantage. They get the offensive zone time but not significant shots. Panthers take their third big win over a top team in as many games with a final score of 4-3. Florida has now beaten Vegas, Tampa Bay, and the New York Rangers.

12/30 Montreal Canadiens:

The last game of 2023 for the Panthers, they look to end the year on a high note against the Montreal Canadiens. The only lineup change is Anthony Stolarz in the net for the Cats; Jake Allen was the netminder for Montreal. This was the second meeting of these two teams; the first time around, Florida won 5-1. Verhaeghe’s line started for the Cats with Mikkola & Montour on defense. Tempers got hot early as Lockwood and Michael Pezzetta got into a fight in the first four minutes of the game; both got a five-minute major penalty for fighting. There was some back-and-forth offensive pressure from both teams, but it was clear that tonight’s game was an emotional letdown for Florida. The team seemed to be plagued by shots going wide or getting blocked by Montreal’s defense. A high stick penalty is called on the Cats for the first power play of the night for either team. Montreal gets a shot off, and Stolarz is there for the stop. Cousins gets a breakaway chance but doesn’t find the back of the net. With two minutes left, Montreal got a dangerous shot off. However, Stolarz came up big again with the glove save. There was a lot of back and forth in the first period, not a lot of shooting from either side, only nine shots total between them.

The shooting woes continued into the second period. Barkov got two chances; one rebounded right back to him, and then the second shot went wide; Kullikov took a shot and hit the crossbar. Another power play chance for Florida after Nick Suzuki gets called for hooking with 15:55 left in the period. Specialty teams continues to be a bright spot for the Panthers as this time, Eetu Loustarinen scores with assists from Rodrigues and Bennet. This makes it four straight games with a Cats specialty teams goal. The lead is short-lived as Rodrigues goes to the box for holding, giving Montreal their own power play chance. Caulfield scores for the Canadiens with a shot right under the crossbar up and over Stolarz with 12:59 to go in the second. Panthers’ power play got another chance to score when Montreal was called for having too many men on the ice. Verhaghe got one to the net as the power play ended, but the Canadiens challenged that it was offsides. Upon review, the challenge is successful, and the game goes back to being tied 1-1. The clock resets, and more power play time for Florida, but this time, the Canadiens kill it. The Cats held the majority of the offensive zone time for the second period only allowing two shots with 6:24 left in the period. Most of the Panthers’ shots have gone wide or gotten blocked, the period closes with the game tied 1-1. 

The third period looked like it was going to be more of the same: lots of back and forth and shots going wide of the net or getting blocked. Joel Armia knocked off a Panthers’ helmet giving the Cats a power play chance. With a quieter night from Barkov and Reinhart, Lourstarinen’s power play unit stepped up to score for the 2-1 lead. For the first time in Eetu’s career, he’s scored two goals in a single game. Montreal gets some extended offensive zone pressure with 9:00 minutes to go in the third. Ekman-Larrson uses a wrister shot that Bennet redirects to score, 3-1 Panthers and 4:34 left. In a bold move, Montreal pulls Allen for the man advantage at 3:51 in the period. Stolarz apparently wanted in on the goal-scoring action and sent a puck long, but Montreal knocked it down. For the second time in two games, Verhaeghe gets the last goal of the game on the empty net with 2:47 left on the clock. Time runs out and Florida closes 2023 on a four-game win streak, they now sit in second place in the Atlantic Division with a record of 22-12-2 and 46 points. They are just two points behind the division leader, Boston; however, the Bruins have played two fewer games than the Panthers. Florida opens the new year playing a four-game road stretch starting with Arizona. 

We Got The Jack Inside The Rink

In episode 8 of the Inside The Rink podcast, Matty and Smitty are joined by new co-host Conrad Jack. After the long hiatus, we get back to hockey with a PACKED episode!Matt Rempe & the Devils vs. Rangers Line BrawlCould the Vancouver Canucks squander a playoff opportunity? Have the Winnipeg Jets finally figured out their lines?Flyers Head Coach John Tortorella is a sound byte MACHINEOvechkin is on his way to 895, Who is next?McDavid joins elite company with 100 Assists in a seasonRyan Hartman was suspended 3 Games, was it worth 3 games??Can Auston Matthews hit 70 Goals this season?The Eastern Conference Wild Card race is heating up, who lands the two playoff berths?For all of your hockey news and more from the show, visit us at insidetherink.com and watch us on YouTube! How to support us and our sponsors:TicketmasterColumbia Sports ApparelESPN+ SubscriptionFanaticsDraft Kings – CODE ITR
  1. We Got The Jack
  2. Episode 7. Player Safety First!
  3. Episode 6. Early Trade Season
  4. Episode 5. Longing For The Chiarelli Years
  5. Episode 4. Ottawa’s On Fire

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