Florida Panthers fall to the visiting Carolina Hurricanes in a five-round shootout

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George Richards
·4 min read
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When the 2021 NHL season started, no one really knew what to expect from the Panthers.

Playing in a newly created division with a bunch of new faces in the lineup, the hope was the team would compete for one of the four playoff spots in this temporary Central Division.

Here we are 20 games into this 56-game sprint and the Panthers are not only contending for a spot in the playoffs, but could win the division outright.

Although the Panthers lost 4-3 to visiting Carolina on Saturday night in a five-round shootout, Florida remains tied with the defending Stanley Cup champion Lightning. Both teams sit atop the Central with 29 points apiece.

Had the Panthers pulled out the shootout win, they would have 30 points which not only would put them alone in first, but would match the 1996-97 team for the best start through 20 games in franchise history.

Can the Panthers keep this up, continue hanging with the likes of the mighty Lightning and the dangerous Hurricanes?

Florida has already taken two of three from Tampa Bay and have split two with the Hurricanes.

The Panthers get another crack at Carolina Monday at 7 p.m.

“We know we have a good team, and it starts with our goaltenders out to the defense and the forwards,” said Patric Hornqvist, the first player new GM Bill Zito acquired after taking over for Dale Tallon.

“We have a really great coach who knows the game really well and knows how to win. I believe in this group and we have a lot of fun together. We have to enjoy ourselves and be hard on ourselves as well. I like what we got, for sure.”

The past two games have shown the resiliency Florida has displayed since the season started.

No team in the league has played in more one-goal games than the Panthers and they have had success in close games winning eight of the 12 with at least a point in all but one.

Thursday, the Panthers rallied from a 2-0 third-period deficit to stun Dallas 3-2; Saturday, they did it again against Carolina only to end up losing the bonus point in the shootout.

The Panthers say they believe they can come back regardless of the score or the situation. Perhaps it is time to believe them.

“We get that second goal and the enthusiasm is like, ‘OK, let’s get excited about this. Let’s go.’ Lot of positives,” coach Joel Quenneville said Saturday night.

“We have come back a lot this year and playing from behind, I don’t think we change how we have to play to be successful. The nice thing about coming back is we are scoring some hard goals and that is where the rewards are.”

Saturday night, Vincent Trocheck started the scoring for Carolina in his first game at BB&T Center since the Panthers traded him last February.

Carolina made it 2-0 early in the third off its second power play goal of the night and that’s when the Panthers started to cash in on some chances.

Jonathan Huberdeau and Hornqvist led a brigade of Panthers jabbing at a loose puck former Florida goalie James Reimer couldn’t find with Huberdeau putting it through to make it 2-1.

The game was tied after Frank Vatrano scored, but with just under six minutes left, Carolina took the lead back. The Panthers did not panic.

With Sergei Bobrovsky on the bench, Florida sent in an extra attacker and MacKenzie Weegar threw up a shot toward the net. Hornqvist was there to knock it through and tie the score with his team-leading ninth goal of the season.

Florida ended up losing in the fifth round of the shootout as Trocheck, touched by the tribute video the team honored him with earlier, scored there as well as Carolina ended a three-game losing streak and moved into third, two points back of Tampa Bay and Florida.

All three of those losses last week came at home to the Lightning.

“Obviously good teams don’t lose back-to-backs and we lost three in a row,” Trocheck said.

“So coming in tonight against a good team we needed to get that win. In this shortened season, every game matters, every point matters. To get the two points against a good team is important.”