The Florida Panthers’ road trip started with them seeing a lead evaporate in the final five seconds of regulation only to lose in overtime against Edmonton and then fall behind by three goals after one period against the Calgary Flames en route to a drubbing. It was a continuation of a horrid stretch for the Panthers, one in which they had lost six of seven games and picked up just five of a possible 14 points.
Finally, on Thursday against the Vancouver Canucks, they had a breakthrough.
Florida scored three goals in a span of 59 seconds — a franchise record — late in the first period and didn’t let up for the final 40 minutes en route to a 5-1 win at Rogers Arena.
“We didn’t sit back,” said Matthew Tkachuk, who tallied three points in the game and opened scoring with a backhanded shot that got past Canucks goaltender Thatcher Demko with 1:46 left in the first period. “We didn’t sit on the lead. They had their pushes in the second and in the third, but we did a great job of kind of giving it right back to them in the sense of just playing in their zone and having more shots, more chances.”
The Panthers (11-9-4) now hope to bottle this result up as they try to close this five-game road trip on a high note. They are 1-1-1 through three games in western Canada and finish up by playing against the Seattle Kraken (15-5-3) at 10 p.m. Saturday and Winnipeg Jets (14-6-1) at 8 p.m. Tuesday before playing four of their next five after that at FLA Live Arena.
“It gives you a chance to go from what could be a real tough [road trip] to now you’re looking at it and hoping it can be a great road trip,” coach Paul Maurice said.
The Panthers on Thursday got contributions from just about everyone in the lineup, which is needed when they’re playing without captain and star center Aleksander Barkov. They were also without center Anton Lundell for the majority of the game after he played just six shifts, none coming after the opening four minutes of the second period
“[Lundell] just didn’t loosen up,” Maurice said. “He may well be fine [Friday], or not, I guess. But it’s not something that’s long-term or a concern. He just got out there, he tightened up and couldn’t go.”
Ten different players logged at least one point, with Tkachuk posting his fourth three-point night of the season and Sam Bennett logging his second multi-goal game of the season. Defenseman Gustav Forsling and fourth-line winger Ryan Lomberg scored the other two goals in the minute-long flurry late in the first period after Tkachuk opened scoring.
While the Canucks had a 33-32 edge in shots on goal, the Panthers generates the more dangerous chances. Florida had 36 scoring chances to Vancouver’s 20. Eighteen of the Panthers’ chances were high-danger compared to just seven for the Canucks.
“We needed this one,” Lomberg said.
Now, they need to string together another one ... or two ... or more like Thursday to get momentum back on their side. It’s still early, just 24 of 82 games played, but the Panthers are on the outside looking in for playoff contention. They are tied with the New York Rangers with 26 points, one behind the Detroit Red Wings (who have two games in hand) for the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference and three points behind the Tampa Bay Lightning (who have one game in hand) for third place in the Atlantic.