“It was two different teams, from the first 40 [minutes] to the last 20,” coach Bob Boughner said. “In between periods we just talked about not wasting our time in these exhibitions; we had to get something out of this. We reflected on last year’s start of the season.
“We don’t have time to feel our way around. We have to get our A-game going quick. This is a team we’re going to be seeing a week from now for real. I asked the guys to respond and show a little accountability, and they did. I was happy to see that.”
After falling behind 2-0 in the second period on goals from Adam Erne and Alex Killorn, Florida came back with a vengeance in the third period on goals from Evgenii Dadonov, Aaron Ekblad and newly-minted captain Aleksander Barkov, who iced the game with 7:29 left in regulation.
“We didn’t have our legs in the first two periods,” said Barkov, who led the Panthers with 78 points in 79 games last season. “Everybody saw that we were not going and not playing the right way…. But in the third period we decided we were going to play for each other and do the right things on the ice and try to spend as much time as we can in their zone. A couple good plays by Daddy and Ekkie, and we were back in the game.”
With the victory, the Panthers improved to 3-2-0 in the preseason.
Here are five takeaways from Tuesday’s win in Tampa…
1. McCANN ESCAPES UNSCATHED
Thankfully, this looked a lot worse than it turned out to be.
After absorbing a hit along the boards behind Tampa’s net midway through the second period, Jared McCann was unable to put any weight on his left leg and had to be helped to the locker room by Florida’s training staff. For a moment, the team was left holding its collective breath.
“It was scary,” Boughner said. “I think we all thought it was worse than it was.”
But when the third period arrived, so did McCann, who appeared no worse for wear.
“My first feeling was kinda nothing in my leg,” he said. “It scared me a bit. I didn’t want to put any weight on it or anything like that. But luckily we’ve got a good training staff here and they helped me through it, loosened it up a lot. [My leg] just eased up on me, so it was good.”
McCann’s loss would have been substantial for the Panthers, as the 22-year-old is expected to anchor the club’s third line this season following a career-best campaign in 2017-18 in which he set new career marks in assists (19), points (28), blocks (32) and takeaways (39).
“It was a scary moment, but he’s a tough guy,” Barkov said.
Entering tonight’s game, McCann’s two goals were tied for the team lead in the preseason.
2. DADONOV DOES IT ALL
Dadonov did it again.
With Florida trailing 2-0 early in the third period, Dadonov jumpstarted the team’s comeback, redirecting a long shot from Mark Pysyk past Andrei Vasilevskiy to cut the deficit to 2-1 at 2:16 of the final frame. Later, the 29-year-old winger impressed even further, as a slick move and pass in the slot set up Barkov’s game-winning tally midway through the period.
“It was all about him,” Barkov said of Dadonov’s work to set up the game winner. “Petro [Alexander Petrovic] did a really good play in the neutral zone, stepped up, and Bjugy [Nick Bjugstad] made a really nice pass to [Dadonov]. Everything else was Daddy. He just gave it to me, and I had an empty net. I think anybody in the crowd could have scored it.”
In his return from the KHL, Dadonov posted a career-high 28 goals and 37 assists in 74 games last season. With the preseason starting to wind down, the Russian import looks poised for yet another big season in 2018-19, as he leads the Panthers with three exhibition goals thus far.
3. RIGHT ON, REIMER
There was no shortage of praise in the Panthers locker room after tonight’s game.
Making his second consecutive start of the preseason, the 30-year-old goaltender kept the Cats in the game throughout the entire night, stopping 27 of 29 shots, including a handful from high-danger areas to earn the victory. Without question, this was his best start of the preseason.
“Reims made at least three, if not four, game-changing saves,” Boughner said.
Entering his third season as Roberto Luongo‘s backup, Reimer finished the 2017-18 campaign with a 22-14-6 record, four shutouts and a .913 save percentage. Coming in big in the clutch, he appeared in 12 of Florida’s final 29 games, posting a 9-2-1 record with two shutouts.
Entering his third season with the Cats, Reimer finished the 2017-18 campaign with a 22-14-6 record, four shutouts and a .913 save percentage. Coming in big in the clutch, he appeared in 12 of Florida’s final 29 games, posting a 9-2-1 record with two shutouts.
Looking ahead, Reimer is expected to cede the majority of remaining minutes this preseason to Luongo. So, if this was his final start before the regular season, he certainly made the most of it.
“He’s the reason we won the game,” Barkov said of Reimer’s performance. “He gave us an opportunity to win. He was battling and showing us that nobody’s done, the game’s not done.”
4. SHORTY SHOT
We all know what Ekblad can do on the power play, but it was his work while shorthanded that made the different in Tuesday night’s win.
Trailing 2-1 in the third period, Ekblad completed Florida’s comeback with a booming shot while on the penalty kill to make it a 2-2 game with 12:57 left in regulation. It was the first goal of the preseason for Ekblad, who credited teammate Colton Sceviour for setting up the play.
“It was a great pass by Scevs,” Ekblad said. “I didn’t think he was going to see me, so I was kind of preparing to peel out of the zone quickly… he made a beautiful pass through the feet, and it worked out.”
A threat in all situations, Ekblad’s 1,917:54 of ice time were second to only Keith Yandle on the Panthers last season. Of those minutes, a team-high 183:49 came on the penalty kill and 174:23 came on the power play. At 23, he is expected to have similar deployments this season.
“It’s tough to come together quickly, but we came out in the third after a little bit of a whipping and we responded,” Ekblad said. “It’s good to see. It’s a positive. I know we’re going to look at the video, but it’s a little sweeter that we got the win.”
5. DESTINATION DISNEY
I hope you enjoyed tonight’s matchup, because you’re going to get a lot more of it.
With game one in the books, the Panthers and Lightning will head to Orlando for a game at the Amway Center – home of the NBA’s Magic and ECHL’s Solar Bears – for a neutral-site matchup on Thursday. This will mark the first meeting between the two clubs in Orlando since 1996.
“It’s always nice to play against a team that you’re going to battle against in the season,” Barkov said. “To see those guys, compete against them and see where you are right now, I feel like we’re in good shape.”
Following their duel in the land of Disney, the two teams will head South to Sunrise to close out the preseason with a game at BB&T Center on Saturday. After that, both teams will sit tight for a week before convening once more in Tampa for the regular-season opener on Oct. 6.
“We’re just expecting to clean a few little things up,” Ekblad said. “We just want to start on time and get used to being back together again. It’s not going to be perfect in the preseason — we know that. But it’s going to need to be perfect come Game 1.”