Panthers host Wild after deflating defeat

Field Level Media

When the Florida Panthers host the Minnesota Wild on Friday night, fans will witness two teams on the opposite ends of the emotional spectrum.

The Panthers had a 3-2 lead in the final minute on the road Thursday night against the red-hot Boston Bruins. However, the Panthers gave up a power-play goal with 37 seconds left to tie the score and then the game-winner with less than seven ticks remaining for a crushing 4-3 defeat.

The result was Florida's sixth loss in a row (0-2-4).

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"We were 30-(something) seconds away from a perfect, 60-minute game," said Panthers captain Aleksander Barkov, who had a goal and an assist and leads Florida with 70 points this season. "We wanted to end (Boston's) points streak (now at 18 games). Those last 30 seconds hurt a lot."

While the Panthers deal with their disappointment, Minnesota comes in on a high after routing the NHL's best team, defeating the host Tampa Bay Lightning 3-0 on Thursday night.

Minnesota is 6-0-2 in its past eight games, and the Wild dropped Tampa Bay's home record this season to a still-stellar 28-6-2.

The Wild have been solid on the road this season with a 19-14-2 record, and they went 2-for-2 on the penalty kill against the Lightning.

Minnesota's biggest hero on Thursday was Jason Zucker, who had a hat trick, including an empty-netter. He has 20 goals this season and 53 over the past two years.

Zucker, a 27-year-old Californian drafted by the Wild in the second round in 2010, was nearly dealt before this year's trade deadline, according to published reports.

"It's always an odd time, but I'm glad that I'm still here, I'll say that," Zucker told reporters. "I'm just trying to work hard. That's really all it is, and my two linemates (Jordan Greenway and Ryan Donato) are playing great.

Donato recorded two assists Thursday, and Minnesota goalie Devan Dubnyk made 25 saves.

If the Wild decide to rest Dubnyk (27-21-6) while playing the second half of a back-to-back set, they would turn to Alex Stalock (6-6-2).

Stalock, a 31-year-old Minnesota native, has a 2.98 goals-against average and an .896 save percentage.

"You don't win in the NHL without great goaltending, and we have that here," Wild center Eric Staal said earlier this season. "We have two guys who compete hard every night and give us a chance."

Similarly, the Panthers may choose to rest starting goalie Roberto Luongo (14-15-4), who had 24 saves against Boston. Florida's backup is James Reimer (13-11-5), who has a 3.02 GAA and a .902 save percentage.

The bright spots for Florida on Thursday included the performance by Jonathan Huberdeau, who had two goals to give him 20 for the season. He also had an assist, and he ended the night with 68 points, one short of his career high.

Barkov also scored for Florida. The goal was his 29th, his career high, one more than he had in 2015-2016. Barkov also had an assist.

Florida's Keith Yandle had two assists, giving him 54 points. He is five away from setting a single-season record for most points by a Panthers defenseman.

Even so, Florida coach Bob Bougner was understandably glum after the game.

"This is the most disappointing loss of the year," Boughner said. "(Boston) pulled their goalie (to get a two-man advantage). They got a shot that goes off (Florida winger Troy Brouwer's) pants, off the crossbar and off (Luongo).

"I'd love to say it was bad composure or it was breakdowns on our part, but it wasn't that. It's going to be tough to put this one behind us. Our room is very down right now."

--Field Level Media

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