BY SCOTT MORGANROTH
The Florida Panthers are heading where the Dallas Stars are trying to get back to.
A return to the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Last year, the Stars reached the Stanley Cup Finals only to lose to the Tampa Bay Lightning 4-2.
On Monday Night at the BB&T Center, the Stars had some major work to do as they were facing an opponent that is already on their way to the tournament and had the luxury of starting their Goaltender Of The Future, Spencer Knight.
Going into the game, the Panthers owned the series lead vs the Stars 5-2.
Dallas’ record was 21-17-13 with 55 points. Florida was sitting comfortably in second place with a 34-14-5 mark.
The Stars are a desperate team and the Panthers knew it.
The Panthers home record was 17-5-3 while Dallas road mark was 8-10-5.
The Panthers didn’t play like they were a comfortable squad as they took a 2-0 and 3-1 lead by the 5:47 mark of the first period.
You could tell that Dallas Goaltender Anton Khudobin (11-10-7) was on his heels.
At the 2:44 mark of the opening frame, the Stars got a little life back for what turned out to be a Panthers own goal as the puck was thrown on the net and went off of Knight’s skate and into the back of the net. Jason Robertson was credited with an unassisted goal and Dallas cut the lead to 3-2.
It didn’t take long for the Panthers to regain a two goal, 4-2 lead as Gustav Forsling scored his fifth goal of the season with assists coming from Grigori Denisenko and Alexander Barkov.
It took less time for Dallas Coach Rick Bowness to make a goaltender change and replaced Khudobin with Jake Oettinger in an effort to stop the Panthers onslaught.
The move sparked Dallas as Oettinger proceeded to stop 26 of the 27 shots he faced.
He kept his team in the game and Dallas rallied behind him. The Stars got goals from Joel Kiviranta at the 3:55 mark and other from Tyler Seguin, just 11 seconds apart to tie the contest at 4-4. Dallas out scored Florida in the third period, 2-0.
This is how the game ended in regulation time and Dallas managed to get “A” point, while the Panthers knew they had more work to do in overtime to get two points. At the end of the third period, Florida had outshot Dallas 36-29.
But the Stars couldn’t avoid the costly mistake in overtime as Joe Pavelski was sent to the penalty box for hooking, which gave Florida a 4-3 advantage.
As a result, Barkov scored the game winning power play goal at 2:50, his 26th of the season with assists going to Keith Yandle and MacKenzie Weegar enabling Florida to win the contest 5-4.
To make matters worse for Dallas, the fourth place Nashville Predators defeated the Columbus Blue Jackets 4-3 in overtime, thus getting two points falling four points behind in the standings.
In the tough defeat, Oettinger saw his record drop to 10-7-7.
Going into Wednesday Night’s action, a Panthers team day off, through 53 games, Nashville is 29-22-2, 60 points, while the Stars have played 52 contests and are 21-17-14 with 56 points.
Dallas has dealt with a lot of adversity this season as COVID-19 caused them to reschedule some games.
The Predators and Blue Jackets play tonight while the Stars have their work cut out for themselves as they face the Lightning Wednesday and again on Friday Night.
The team that defeated them in the Stanley Cup Finals could very well eliminate them by the end of the weekend.
Dallas travels to Chicago and face the Blackhawks on Sunday May, 9 and Monday, May 10 in what they’re hoping will be meaningful games.
But back to the Panthers, they closed out their season series with Dallas 6-2 and used Monday Night to give Knight perhaps his last quality playing time of the season going into the playoffs.
Knight, who stopped 25 of 29 Dallas shots improved his record to 4-0.
Florida improved its record to 35-14-5 and is 9-2-1 over its past 12 games.
Talk about a total team effort, this win demonstrated that as nine different Panthers recorded at least a point.
Yandle produced two assists in this game and is one shy of his 600th NHL point. Radko Gudas led Florida with six hits.
Knight is the youngest goaltender in NHL history to begin their career with a 4-0 record (20 years, 14 days).
You want to talk about preparing for the playoffs, Florida’s 10 overtime wins are the most among all teams this season as well as the most in franchise history in a single campaign.
But the Panthers know that overtimes in the playoffs will be five players aside and not three on three and could go a long time.
After Monday Night’s win, Quenneville scheduled a light week.
The three-time Stanley Cup Winning Coach gave his squad a Team Day Off on Tuesday, May 4, Wednesday, May 5, scheduled a practice on Thursday, May 6 at 11A.M as well as another practice on Friday, May, 7 at 11 A.M.
This is definitely an opportunity to rest his players and get the injured players healthy with what will be a tough two game final home games vs the Tampa Bay Lightning.
They face-off on Saturday Night at 7 E.T.
Owen Tippett recorded two assists in the game. He said, “We knew the push was coming, but for us to get the one point and then the second in overtime was huge.”
Gustav Forsling, who scored his fifth goal of the season, added, “(Dallas) came out really hard in the third (period) there, I think it’s good that we calmed ourselves down and got back to the game. we took it to overtime, good to get the win here.”
Forsling said it’s important for the team to keep the focus and, “We want to keep the playoff mentality like we’ve been doing for the past 15-20 games. Just keep it going. You can’t settle back and take it easy. You’ve just got to keep playing like you want to play in playoffs.”
MacKenzie Weegar said, “I think we played a solid 60 minutes. We found a way to get the two points, but we’ve got to clean a few things up in that third period for sure.”
Quenneville said his team showed a lot of character for the entire 65 minutes.
“I thought we did a good job after (Dallas tied the game). I thought we generated some looks and all of a sudden we’re in their end again and put ourselves back in the game. I thought for the most part tonight’s we did a lot of good things.”
As for Knight the coach added, “I thought he settled down after that (Dallas tied the game) found a way to win. There’s some good things to take out of that game going forward and look to improve upon. But he does a lot of good things.”
As for the goaltending situation over the weekend, according to Quenneville, Chris Driedger and Sergei Bobrovsky will get in a game and he’s going to have a good idea of what direction the team is headed in what is without question, a tough challenging division.
To summarize the week in a nutshell, Dallas has a lot of work to do while Florida would like nothing better than to have home ice advantage in what’s figuring to be a potential first round matchup against the defending Stanley Cup champion, and in-state rival Tampa Bay Lightning.
Let’s not lose sight of the fact that this season, the franchises have shared dual temporary affiliation with the Syracuse Crunch of the American Hockey League, since the Panthers primary affiliate, the Charlotte Checkers didn’t play this season.
I can only imagine what Saturday and Monday Night’s games are going to be light, let alone seeing them play for bragging rights on the frozen pond in Florida. These games could be slugfests and I expect a lot of physical play and some fights between these two squads.
Scott Morganroth can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and you can follow him on Twitter @TribuneSouth.
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