BY SCOTT MORGANROTH
The Florida Panthers tend to make Monday Night’s interesting.
They lost to the Detroit Red Wings 2-1 on February 20, 2021 at Little Caesar’s Arena.
Florida responded with a bounce back performance against the Dallas Stars on Monday, February 22, 2021 at the BB&T Center.
Florida lost to the Carolina Hurricanes 4-3 in a shootout and did get a point on Saturday, February 27, 2021 at the friendly confines in Sunrise.
The Panthers own a 6-0-0 record this season in games following a loss.
Per NHL Stats, Florida is the only team this season undefeated following a loss of any kind.
The Panthers own a 4-1-1 record in the second game of a two-game series against the same opponent this season.
Going into the game, Florida was second in the Central Division, owning a 13-4-3 mark and 29 points over the club’s first 20 games. With a point vs Carolina, the Panthers tied their franchise-best over the first 20 games of a season in club history (29 points, 1995-96/1996-97).
The month of February was kind to the Panthers as Florida posted an 8-4-2 mark, ranking third in the NHL for the month. Florida’s eight February wins marked the fifth time in franchise history that the club has recorded at least eight triumphs in the month.
This impressive start has caught the attention of the rest of the league as Monday Night’s Game versus the Carolina Hurricanes was televised on the NHL Network, in addition to the local market.
The National Television audience also saw Aleksander Barkov appear in his 500th NHL Game, all with the Panthers. Barkov is the 11th player in Panthers history to have played 500 games with the club.
What would give for the Panthers as they concluded a five-game home stand and hit the road for stops in Nashville, Carolina and Columbus?
Florida found itself in another battle with the Hurricanes.
Carolina scored a power play goal in the first period as Brett Pesce lit the lamp to give Carolina a 1-0 lead. He got the opportunity when Patric Hornqvist was sent to the sin bin for roughing.
The Panthers had an unfortunate break in the first period as the officials prematurely blew a whistle as they lost sight of the puck, which found the back of the net.
Hurricanes goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic would keep the game scoreless through two periods as Florida outshot Carolina 22-19.
Chris Driedger kept the Panthers in the game.
Once again, the Panthers found themselves in familiar territory for the third consecutive game trailing after two periods.
Although there is plenty of season left, judging by the first two periods, this has the makings to be an excellent playoff matchup.
The Panthers were physical in this game as Hornqvist was called for two roughing penalties, MacKenzie Weegar had a roughing call while Noel Acciari was sent to the penalty box for boarding.
To say there is no love loss between these two squads would be mildly stating the obvious. The nastiness between the two teams was evident in this new rivalry.
It didn’t take long for Florida to tie this game 1-1, as Frank Vatrano scored an even strength goal just 4:40 into the third period. Aleksander Barkov and Carter Verhaeghe got assists.
The Panthers took a 2-1 lead at 16:51 as Eetu Luostarinen put the biscuit in the basket and the Panthers were just minutes away from another regulation time win.
But an old friend picked a good time to get his 11th goal of the year as Vincent Trocheck tied it 2-2, sending to overtime as the Hurricanes pulled the goaltender for an extra attacker.
Martin Necas scored in OT and the Hurricanes defeated the Panthers 3-2.
This is the first time that Florida has lost two games in a row.
They have earned at least one point in each of their last three games, going 1-0-2.
The Panthers out shot Carolina 46-27 and 23-9 in the third period, but still managed to pick up a point.
If you want to talk about two evenly matched teams, two games have been decided in overtime while the other was a shootout.
When the contest was over, despite the loss, everyone seemed upbeat.
Coach Joel Quenneville said about the series with Carolina, “I liked the way we were competing. A lot of positives coming out of the game even though we were trailing for a big part of it. It didn’t affect how we were competing, how we were playing. This game was hard fought, we were doing the right things, had good energy and we’re getting points.”
Forward, Noel Acciari had high praise for the team which is based in the State’s Capital, Raleigh.
“They’re very good, fast and skilled team. I think it’s going to be close games like that all season long. We’re battling for a top four spot. They’re up 2-1 in the series right now and we get to see them in not too long (March 7 in NC). Every team is looking for points, getting one point is good, but we definitely want that second one.”
Forward, Aleksander Barkov talked about his bittersweet evening about reaching 500 NHL games.
“Is a huge accomplishment for myself. Would have been nice to get a win today, but it means a lot. Even one game in this league is a dream and every game for me is living the dream, trying to be as good as I can.”
As for the outcome of the game, Barkov added, “Huge comeback again and getting the lead at the end of the game. It never feels good to lose those games into overtime. We’ve got to learn from that and get those situations in the game, get more comfortable and move forward.”
Goaltender, Chris Driedger has a tremendous amount of respect for the Hurricanes and likes the challenge of playing them.
“Every time we play these guys, it’s a good hockey game. “We’ve been find our game in the third (period) as far as putting the puck in the back of the net. It’s nice to see that we are always in games. Every game against these guys has always been a battle so I expect the same thing going forward.”
The Panthers are now 6-0-1 after a loss. They are now 4-2-1 in the second game of a two-game series against the same opponent.
Florida still remains atop of the Central Division with a 13-4-4 mark and 30 points. Carolina improved it’s record to 14-6-1 and has 29 points tied for second in the division with Tampa Bay 14-4-1 and 29 points.
The Panthers will face the Hurricanes on March 7, 2021 in North Carolina.
Ironically, On This Date In Panthers History in 2020, Florida retired Roberto Luongo’s No.1 Jersey, making him the first player in team history to have his jersey retired by the franchise. The Panthers made the occasion even more special by defeating the Montreal Canadiens 4-1.
There would be no better way to reflect than to rebound with a win against a team that Florida could face in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
But recapping what’s ahead for the Panthers, they face the Nashville Predators on March 4-5 in Music City. From there, you guessed it, the Carolina Hurricanes and then off to the Capital of Ohio for a two-game series against the Columbus Blue Jackets on March 9-11.
Florida defeated Carolina 4-3 in OT when they faced each other in Raleigh on February 17, 2021.
The Panthers return to the BB&T Center as they’ll face the Chicago Blackhawks on March 13.
They’ll find out a lot more about their team starting with this road trip.
Scott Morganroth can be reached at email@example.com and you can follow him on Twitter @TribuneSouth.