The Florida Panthers were due for a stinker — and it came in their seventh game of the season Tuesday against the Blackhawks in Chicago.
Until the third period, anyway.
The Panthers did not look all that into it from the start and, when they did get going in the second did not produce as the Blackhawks took a three-goal lead into the third and held off Florida 4-2 at United Center.
Florida at least made things interesting in the third thanks to goals from Eetu Luostarinen and Matthew Tkachuck (who deflected a Brandon Montour shot) 75 seconds apart.
”The one bright spot is they don’t quit,’’ coach Paul Maurice said. “They have a real belief they can come back and win those games. And rightfully so. You’re looking at the positives because we’re not bragging about that one.”
A late push in the final two minutes with Sergei Bobrovsky on the bench was unable to put anything past Alex Stalock and Jonathan Toews chased down what could have been an iced puck and knocked it into the empty net with 23 seconds remaining to end it.
Prior to Florida’s late push, It was not a pretty night — by any means — for the Panthers.
”We had to (fight back) because we were so bad in the first two periods,’’ Tkachuk said. “We put ourselves in a terrible position. Definitely our worst two periods of the season. I mean, we’ve got the talent and when we want to play the right way, when we’re aggressive and not sitting back with the pucks, we can do what we did in the third period.
”We can take over games and give ourselves a chance to win the game. We had no business winning that game after the first two periods.”
Florida squandered one power play chance after another in the second — a period the Panthers could have taken over and simply did not.
In the third, Maurice broke up the Sasha Barkov-Sam Reinhart combo as he hinted he might the day before, at first simply flipping Barkov with Sam Bennett; later, it was Barkov with Carter Verhaeghe and Tkachuk.
While Barkov still remains without a goal — he had a great look to tie it late but Stalock got a piece of the shot.
Florida’s power play remains stuck on the two second-period goals scored by Aaron Ekblad and Brandon Montour back in the second game of the season on Oct. 15.
Since Montour’s goal, the Panthers have gone 0-23 while with the man advantage including going scoreless on five chances — FIVE — in the second period on Tuesday.
The Panthers even had a 5-on-3 chance for 1:35 in the second and nada.
For all the chances Florida had to do some damage with the power play Tuesday, all they mustered was six shots on goal and one high-danger chance against Stalock who ended with 29 saves.
”It’s easy to string our power plays together and say that’s an issue, but our power play was our 5-on-5 tonight,” Maurice basically saying both were not very good in the opening two periods.
”It was all the same game, it wasn’t separated. It has been in the past, our 5-on-5 has been exceptional but tonight they were equal.”
Down 3-2, the Panthers got another power play chance and did sustain some possession time and had two shots on goal. Not enough though.
”Our power play obviously needs to get us one at the end,” Tkachuk said. “That would have been a good time to get one. We have to get pucks to the net, get a greasy goal.”
To add injury to insult, Gus Forsling took a hard shot off the side of his foot just before the Blackhawks made it 3-0 with 4:02 left in the second period.
Forsling, who has been playing a lot more what with Ekblad out a few more games, did return but do not be surprised if he does not play Thursday once the swelling starts when he finally took his skate off.
The Blackhawks, figured to be at the bottom of the NHL standings this year after all their offseason dealings, have won their past four.
The Panthers head to Phillies Country and a second date with the Flyers on Thursday night.
Florida has gone 1-1-1 since beating the Flyers in their home opener on Oct. 19.
”We were just slow, made careless turnovers and left Bob out to dry on a few of them,” Tkachuk continued. “We’ll learn from it. I don’t think we took this team lightly, but it goes to show every team in this league can beat anyone on any given night.”
Added Maurice: “We haven’t had one this season where we came off the rink and thought this was a tough one. This was a tough one tonight. We’ll deal with that tomorrow and learn how to deal with it.”
GR’S THREE STARS OF THE GAME
1. Alex Stalock, Chicago
2. Patrick Kane, Chicago
3. Eetu Luostarinen, Florida
PANTHERS ON DECK
FLORIDA PANTHERS AT PHILADELPHIA FLYERS
- When: Thursday, 7 p.m.
- Where: Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia
- TV/Streaming: Bally Sports Florida, ESPN+
- Radio: WPOW 96.5-FM2; WBZT 1230-AM (Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); SiriusXM
- Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932
- Last season: Florida won 3-0
- All-time regular season series: Philadelphia leads 55-37-6, 7 ties
- Season Series (Florida 1-0): Florida 4, Philadelphia 3 (Oct. 19)