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Captain Clutch: Barkov Wills Florida Panthers to Win over Red Wings

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Florida Panthers captain Sasha Barkov celebrates his go-ahead goal with Sam Reinhart as Niko Mikkola joins in on the fun Saturday afternoon in Sunrise. (AP Photo/Jim Rassol)

SUNRISE — When push came to shove, Sasha Barkov took control and willed the Florida Panthers to a 3-2 win over the Detroit Red Wings with a two-goal third period on Saturday afternoon.

With the Florida offense stymied by a herculean effort by former teammate Alex Lyon, Barkov made a pair of plays that resulted in goals when the Panthers needed them most. 

“That’s what you want out of your best player,” Sam Reinhart said. “When we are playing our best, he is leading the way.”

Florida did not play its best hockey in the first period.

Things favored the Panthers on paper — a 15-10 lead in scoring chances and a 7-2 lead in high-danger chances — but they needed to get bodies to the net and forecheck the way they usually do.

They also went into that intermission down 1-0 after a power-play goal from Robby Fabbri 9:29 into the frame.

That was a trend over the previous eight games, a stretch Florida went 2-5-1 with key players filtering in and out of the lineup.

With a fully healthy team, that was no longer an excuse.

“We didn’t like our first period,” Barkov said. “We had some chances, but I don’t think that was our game. So after the first period, in the second and third, we started playing a lot harder and that looked more like us. I think we found the way to win and we just need to believe that that’s how we need to play.”

Barkov told Bally Sports Florida’s Katie Engleson that coach Paul Maurice “yelled” at the Panthers following the first period, but whatever he said was not as important as the players’ efforts after that.

“If it was a really good message, I can’t remember it,” Maurice said. “I don’t think it was special. I’ve had much better ones. The one between the second and third was probably the best of the year, though.”

That message?

Nothing.

Maurice did not enter the locker room at all, and the players picked up the pieces, worked through the frustration, and got the job done.

“That’s a player win for me because the coach didn’t have much to say today,” Maurice said.

“I really like the way they ran the bench, and I like the way they came together tonight. I thought it was really important.”

And, of course, in the heart of that ‘players’ win’ was none other than Captain Barkov.

“It’s gotta be,” Maurice said. “Because he is not a big yapper. 

“I don’t imagine he spends a lot of time chatting. So he’s gotta play, he’s gotta lead by example and he did that tonight, for sure.”

Barkov tied the game with 6:39 to go, finishing off a feed from Aaron Ekblad, who powered his way through a sea of defenders straight out of the penalty box.

“He came out of the box fresh, so he had the energy to dangle three guys and then got the puck for me there,” Barkov said. “I think I had an empty net, so he was huge.”

Less than three minutes later, it was Barkov’s turn to put on a show.

Barkov took the puck in alone against four Red Wings defenders, slipped his way past the first one, did an up-and-over move over another’s stick and watched as the puck deflect off of a third defender’s stick and in to give the Panthers their first lead with 4:56 to go.

“I feel like he’s always crucial for us,” Oliver Ekman-Larsson said of Barkov’s performance. “He is a leader, he is one of the top players in this league and he’s been coming up big.”

Red Wings captain Dylan Larkin tied things up with four minutes to go, but the Panthers pushed on.

They found themselves on the penalty kill 34 seconds into overtime after Barkov tripped Ben Chiarot and found a way to get the game to a shootout.

Reinhart scored the lone goal, and Sergei Bobrovsky stopped all three shots he faced in the shootout to help the Panthers to just their second win in the past eight games.

“It was a tight game,” Reinhart said. “It’s been tough getting wins, so getting frustrated has been easy. I think we did a good job of staying composed… We found a way and that’s important tonight.”

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  • When: Monday, 7 p.m.
  • Where: Scotiabank Arena, Toronto
  • TV/Streaming: Bally Sports SUN/ESPN+
  • Radio: WPOW 96.5-FM2; WBZT 1230-AM (West Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); WCZR 101.7-FM (Treasure Coast); SiriusXM
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  • This Season (Tied 1-1) — At Florida: Panthers 3, Leafs 1 (Oct. 19)April 16. At Toronto: Leafs 2, Panthers 1 (Nov. 28); Monday.
  • Last Season: Toronto won Regular Season Series 3-1; Florida won Eastern Conference Semifinals 4-1
  • All-time Regular Season Series: Toronto leads 49-37-7, 7 ties
  • Up Next for the Panthers: Tuesday at Montreal, 7 p.m.

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