“Another lesson to be learned,” Panthers coach Bob Boughner said. “That’s all we talked about all day, coming out and starting well against these guys. We knew they were going to be fresh.”
“They had some time off… We knew they would come out hard. We just didn’t have enough intensity and urgency in the beginning of the game. We regrouped after one [period], came out real strong in the second, and I liked our third. I think we gave up only nine or 10 shots over the last 40 minutes of play. We had ample opportunities in overtime to win the game.”
With six days in between games, the Rangers came out firing in the first period, jumping out to a 2-0 lead after the first 20 minutes of action. Despite the Panthers enjoying two opportunities on the power play, New York finished with a 23-18 advantage in shot attempts in all situations.
But in the second, Florida responded, scoring twice in the opening 4:14 of the middle frame to tie the game 2-2. From there, the two teams traded goals until arriving at overtime tied 4-4. In the extra frame, the Panthers had several opportunities but couldn’t beat Henrik Lundqvist.
In the skills competition, all three Rangers shooters scored to beat the Panthers, who finished their season-long, eight-game homestand at 3-2-3. Of those five losses, four were by just one goal.
“I think we gave away some points against some teams we were up on,” Boughner said of the homestand. “What’d we get, nine out of 16? I think that it could have easily been 12, 13, 14 out of 16, which would have been unbelievable. It didn’t happen. We’re still getting points in games; every point’s important. But at some point, yeah, we’ve got to close games out.”
Here are five takeaways from Saturday’s loss in Sunrise…
1. GETTING STARTED
Hot damn, Yands!
Sent to the man advantage just 11 seconds into the second period after an interference call on, Keith Yandle wasted no time in cutting New York’s lead in half, slapping home a long one-timer from below the blue line to make it a 2-1 game less than a minute into the middle frame.
As it stands now, the 32-year-old has separated himself from the crowd as the premier power-play quarterback in the league, producing 19 points with the man advantage. That total is not only the most in the NHL, but has already surpassed the 18 he finished with last season.
Of Florida’s 31 goals on the power play this season, Yandle has been involved on 19 of them.
Additionally, with a three-point night against the Rangers, Yandle pushed his point total to 28, which leads all Panthers defenseman and ranks sixth among the league’s blue liners.
2. THE HUBERDEAU SHOW
Jonathan Huberdeau continues to pile up points in bunches.
Just a few minutes after Yandle got the Panthers on the board, Huberdeau evened the score, carrying the puck in from the neutral zone and beating Lundqvist with a deceptive wrist shot that slipped through the goaltender’s five-hole and into the net make it 2-2 at 4:14.
With the goal, Huberdeau registered the 300th point of his NHL career.
The league’s reigning “Third Star of the Week,” Huberdeau has been beyond hot as of late. With three points against the Rangers, he has now registered a multi-point game in seven of his last eight contests. The 25-year-old currently leads Florida in both points (34) and assists (26).
3. SEVEN IN FOURTEEN
At this point, you can pencil in a goal for Aaron Ekblad every other game.
With time winding down in the second period and the Panthers trailing 3-2, Ekblad slid down into the low slot before taking a pass from Huberdeau and firing a shot right over Lundqvist’s outstretched glove to make it 3-3 with 1:40 left in the middle frame.
Held without a goal through the first 14 games of the season, Ekblad now has seven in his last 14 contests – the most among NHL defenseman in that span. At just 22, he ranks tied for third among the league’s blueliners in goals (7), while also sitting tied for first in power-play goals (4).
With just one more goal, the former first-overall pick and Calder Trophy winner will move into a tie with Robert Svehla for the most goals by a defenseman in franchise history with 61.
4. SASHA THE SNIPER
Aleksander Barkov‘s wrist shot doesn’t get nearly enough credit as it should.
With the Panthers in a 4-3 hole midway through the third period, the 23-year-old captain made sure his team would get at least one point, ripping a rocket of a wrist shot over Lundqvist’s glove on the power play to tie the game 4-4 with 9:09 remaining in regulation.
Entering the game as the NHL’s leader in average ice time among forwards, Barkov skated a game-high 26:49 against the Rangers to go along with his timely goal. Producing at nearly a point-per-game pace, he has now registered 11 goals and 16 assists in 28 games this season.
“I think we lost a lot of points in the last minutes,” Barkov said of the homestand. “It could have been better, but there’s nothing we can do about it. We just need to keep going forward, keep believing in each other and playing hard every game.”
5. MEGA MAN ADVANTAGE
Florida’s power play is becoming more reliable than the USPS.
Neither snow nor rain nor heat will stop them from picking up at least one goal with the man advantage – a feat they have now accomplished in 18 of their last 19 games. With two more power play goals on Saturday night, they improved to 25-for-72 (34.7 percent) since Nov. 1.
“The power play’s huge in games like this,” Huberdeau said. “It’s nice to get some goals, you know, get clicking again. But at 5-on-5 we need to be a little better defensively. We can’t allow four goals every game. We’ve just got to be better and ready for next game.'”
In addition to their hot power play, the Panthers penalty kill also appears to have turned a corner, finishing the homestand 19-for-22 (86.4 percent) after a 1-for-1 night against New York.