The Florida Panthers saw their 4-0 lead slowly dwindle away as the third period waned on Monday. Thanks to solid play by goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, hustle plays by the Panthers top two lines, and a little bit of luck, they held off the New Jersey Devils for the first win of their young season.
Florida scored four minutes into the first period when Aleksander Barkov won a battle along the boards and kicked the puck out to Evan Rodrigues at the blue line, who then fired a shot toward the net that deflected off Sam Reinhart for the goal.
Florida notched another goal later in the period when Matthew Tkachuk saucered a three-line pass from his own defensive zone all the way to Carter Verhaeghe at the offensive blue line who then finished off the run with a backhanded top-shelf goal.
The Panthers added a couple more goals in the 2nd and third periods: Niko Mikkola skated hard towards the net and received a solid centering pass from Tkachuk in the second period for the third goal of the game, and Oliver Ekman-Larsson fired a shot from the blue line that deflected off Reinhart’s stick for a powerplay goal in the third.
The Third Period
Shortly after the Panthers extended their lead to 4-0 early in the third period, the Devils got on the board thanks to a powerplay goal by Erik Haula. The puck was shot by Jack Hughes and glanced off Haula’s stick right in front of the net.
With 11:09 left in the third, Michael McCleod buried a rebound shot from the post that barely trickled past Bobrovsky.
Things started getting hairy for Florida with 4:04 left in the game when Panthers forward Nick Cousins went to the box for tripping. With the Devils also having pulled their goalie, they had a 6-on-4 advantage. About halfway through the Panthers penalty kill, forward Kevin Stenlund lost his stick, essentially making it a 6-on-3-and-a-half for New Jersey.
Seconds later, Jesper Bratt fired a wrist shot from the right dot for a goal to bring the Devils within one with 2:23 to go.
Devils pull within one with 2:23 left.
— Florida Panthers (@FlaPanthers) October 17, 2023
Five of New Jersey’s shots on goal came during those final five minutes.
The Devils’ onslaught of offense was finally neutralized with about 20 seconds to go. After Eetu Luostarinen lost the faceoff to Haula in Florida’s defensive zone, the puck was kicked out to the blue line. Tkachuk raced over there, dove forward, and was able to poke the puck just over the blue line and out of the zone. When New Jersey tried re-entering the offensive zone, they were called for offsides. Barkov won the subsequent faceoff, essentially icing the game and clinching the win for Florida.
Defense Was Active on Offense
Mikkola, the 6’5 206-lb defenseman who was essentially signed to be Radko Gudas’ replacement as the big-bodied enforcer, scored the first goal this season for a Panthers defenseman. Mikkola was playing deep in the offensive zone on a few shifts Monday night. With 6:48 left in the first period, he was in the exact right spot as he crashed toward the net to receive a centering pass from Matthew Tkachuk for the Panthers’ second goal of the night. Mikkola had one goal all season with the New York Rangers in 2022-23.
Ekman-Larsson, who many were expecting to fill the role of powerplay quarterback while Aaron Ekblad rehabs from his shoulder surgery, scored a goal on the man advantage Monday. One minute into the third period, Ekman-Larsson had to lunge forward toward the boards on his hands and knees to save a puck from trickling out of the offensive zone. After making a couple of passes, the puck came back to him and he fired a wrist shot from the blue line into the back of the net to give Florida a 4-0 lead.
Florida defensemen as a whole had one goal and three assists on Monday.
📸 Credit: Florida Panthers