SUNRISE — A few years ago, the Florida Panthers were known as the ‘Comeback Cats’ for their penchant for the rallying from big deficits. Tuesday night against the Washington Capitals rekindled some of those memories.
The Panthers, all but left for dead down 4-1 coming into the third period, ended up pulling off their most memorable victory of their young season and one that may spur on more good tidings moving forward.
Florida scored four goals in the third period — with Sam Reinhart’s power play blast in the final seconds the capper — to beat Washington 5-4.
The Panthers ended up outshooting the Capitals 27-2 in the third period.
“It shows the resilience of this group,” Andrew Brunette said. “The third period desperation level went up three or four notches.
”It was fun to watch.”
The Capitals came into the game as the top team in the NHL after beating the Panthers and Carolina Hurricanes the past couple of days.
Florida was missing three key players and were staring down a three-game losing streak.
The Panthers started this season 11-0 on home ice, may be missing the likes of Sasha Barkov, Anthony Duclair and Gus Forsling but their teammates rallied on Tuesday.
The Panthers are now done with the Capitals, at least for the regular season, going 2-1-0.
Washington took control of the game early with a pair of quick goals although Joe Thornton got one back to keep things reasonable for a bit.
At 5:52 of the first, Connor McMichael played the puck behind the net, sent a shot back and hit Sergei Bobrovsky in the rear to bank it into the net.
Just nine seconds later, rookie defenseman Matt Kiersted lost the puck deep in his zone with Brett Leason swooping in and feeding fellow rook Beck Malenstyn who walked in and scored.
The aforementioned Thornton made it a one-goal game at 6:55 of the first, neatly cleaning up a rebound left off a point shot from Aaron Ekblad.
In the second, Lars Eller drove around Ekblad on his way to the net, backhanding a shot past Bobrovsky at 6:40 of the period to give the Caps another two-goal lead.
Nick Jensen made it a three-goal pad when he slid through the slot and one-timed a pass from Carl Hagelin at 12:40 of the period.
And that was just about that.
Or so one would think.
No way Florida was coming back from three goals down, not with Ilya Samsonov playing a solid (although not spectacular) game.
In the third, Ryan Lomberg gave the Panthers a scintilla of hope, one-timing a pass from Patric Hornqvist as he was left alone on the left side of the net with 16:37 remaining.
It stayed at 4-2 until Frank Vatrano went to the penalty box and Eetu Luostarinen broke loose off a Lomberg stretch feed.
Even though the puck was bouncing all over the place, Luostarinen got enough on the shot to slip it between the legs of Samsonov.
Florida was down a goal with plenty of time.
After it looked like the Panthers had tied it on a wild scrum down near the net — one resulting in a Washington penalty on Tom Wilson — the Panthers’ power play finally got one as Ekblad’s hard shot from the point was put home by Bennett.
In the final minute, with it looking like the Panthers were indeed going to salvage a point out of this thing by going to overtime, Washington took a penalty.
The Panthers got greedy. Good for them.
With 56.9 seconds left, Florida’s much maligned power play unit came in and did its job.
Reinhart ripped a pass from Jonathan Huberdeau past Samsonov with 14.4 seconds remaining and that really was that.
”It feels great to be able to complete that comeback in regulation,” Reinhart said. “For that crowd tonight, it’s a big one.”
Yes, the Panthers had a win to remember — and, by virtue of playing 22 games with 33 points, retook the top spot in the NHL standings.
GR’S THREE STARS OF THE GAME
1. Sam Reinhart, Florida
2. Aaron Ekblad, Florida
3. Ryan Lomberg, Florida
FLORIDA PANTHERS ON DECK
BUFFALO SABRES AT FLORIDA PANTHERS
- WHEN: Thursday, 7 p.m.
- WHERE: FLA Live Arena, Sunrise
- TV/STREAMING: Bally Sports Florida
- RADIO: WQAM 560
- Last season: Did not play