The Panthers (10-10-5) scored on four of their first 11 shots of the game to take a 4-1 lead over the Atlantic Division-leading Lightning near the midway point of the second period. From there, however, Tampa’s top-ranked offense slowly began chip away at that that substantial deficit.
After Mathieu Joseph and Nikita Kucherov each scored to close out the middle frame at 4-3, Cedric Paquette netted the equalizer after the puck bounced off a Panthers forward and past goaltender James Reimer to make it 4-4 at 11:41 of the third period to get the game to overtime.
In the extra frame, an interference call sent the Lightning to a 4-on-3 power play, where Brayden Point notched the game-winner to complete the comeback 3:12 into overtime.
Having beaten Buffalo the night before, the Panthers, who wrapped up a stretch of five games in eight days, had mixed emotions after settling for just one point again cross-state rival Tampa.
“We started the week with a back-to-back, we ended the week with a back-to-back,” Panthers coach Bob Boughner said. “You could tell that the tank was a little empty towards the end. I liked the way we managed the game with 8-9 minutes to go. We were fine there. They got two power plays, one in overtime. One of the best power plays in the league.
“We were in the game for a long time. We had it on our stick there to go up, Hoff [Mike Hoffman] on the breakaway at the end [of regulation]. We didn’t capitalize on our chances — they did. We were opportunistic early, but we just couldn’t finish it off against a good hockey team, obviously.”
Florida now has a point four of the first five games on its eight-game homestand, going 2-1-2.
In honor of Star Wars Night, here are five takeaways with a Star Wars twist from Saturday night’s overtime loss in Sunrise…
1. VATRANO SHOT FIRST
Did Greedo or Han Solo shoot first? Trick question: it was actually Frank Vatrano.
Heading down the ice with a head full of stream on a 2-on-1 rush, the 24-year-old winger opted to take the shot himself, beating Louis Domingue with a blistering wrister that bounced off the goaltender’s pads and into the net to give Florida an early 1-0 lead at 10:23 of the first period.
In the midst of his first full season with the Panthers, Vatrano, who as acquired from Boston in a trade around last season’s deadline, has quickly established himself as one of the team’s most reliable goal scorers. His eight goals are the fourth-most on the team, and just four off the lead.
With two more goals, Vatrano will match the career-high 10 he posted back in 2016-17.
2. THE BARKSIDE OF THE FORCE
Aleksander Barkov is one with the force.
Just 11 seconds after Vatrano’s opening tally, Barkov doubled the lead with a move that only a Jedi or Sith Lord could have pulled off. Picking up the puck at the blue line, the 23-year-old cut straight towards the net before scoring on an utterly ridiculous backhand to make it 2-0 at 10:34.
With the goal, Barkov extended his point streak to four games, posting three goals and two assists in that span. He currently ranks third on the Panthers in goals (10) and fourth in points (23), while also leading the team in faceoff percentage (53.8), takeaways (44) and average ice time per game (22:59).
3. NOW THIS IS PODRACING
Jonathan Huberdeau scored this goal in less than twelve parsecs.
After stripping the puck from Mikhail Sergachev in the neutral zone, Huberdeau shot down the ice like Luke Skywalker in the trench of the Death Star, skating in all alone on Domingue before tucking the puck past the helpless goaltender to put Florida up 3-1 at 2:11 of the second period.
With a goal and an assist against the Lightning, Huberdeau registered his fifth straight multi-point game, accumulating two goals and nine assists during that span. That eye-popping run has also vaulted the 25-year-old winger to the top of the team scoring lead with 28 points.
“The puck’s his friend right now,” Boughner said. “It’s following him, and that’s because he’s doing a lot of the right things away from the puck. He makes things happen.”
Huberdeau’s 22 assists are tied for 10th-most in the NHL this season.
4. DARTH DADONOV
Like Darth Plagueis the Wise, Evgenii Dadonov has many abilities that some consider to be unnatural.
A part-time Sith Lord and full-time sniper, the 29-year-old winger lit the lamp for the third straight game on Saturday night, scoring from the doorstep on a 5-on-3 power play to extend the lead to 4-1 at 8:04 of the second period. His 12th goal of the season, he is now tied for the team lead.
In the midst of a five-game point streak, Dadonov has notched three goals and three assists in that span. Producing at better point-per-game clip, his 26 points in 25 games this season rank second Panthers, while his five power-play goals are tied with Hoffman for first.
“Keep working and keep playing in our structure,” Dadonov said of the road ahead.
With Dadonov’s goal, the Panthers have now picked up at least one goal with the extra attacker in 15 of their last 16 games. After a 1-for-4 night against the Lightning, they now sit at 20-for-58 with the man advantage since Nov. 1 – the second-best success rate in the NHL in that span.
5. YAN SOLO
So this is how a milestone is reached… with thunderous applause.
With the primary assist on Dadonov’s goal, Keith Yandle registered the 400th assist of his NHL career, becoming just the 62nd defenseman in league history to reach that mark. Of those 400 helpers, 103 have come with the Panthers – the fifth-most among blueliners in franchise history.
A power-play quarterback, Yandle leads the league with 16 points on the man advantage this season. The 32-year-old veteran also ranks first among Florida’s defensemen in assists (19) and average ice time per game (22:40), while also chipping in 20 blocked shots.
The NHL’s active ironman, Yandle has suited up in 740 consecutive games – the sixth-most in league history.