SUNRISE — The Florida Panthers did not start the way they wanted against the Chicago Blackhawks but they certainly liked the way they finished.
Florida coach Paul Maurice preached for days that they could not take the Blackhawks’ rush game lightly. And it did not look like any of it mattered early.
Two quick first period goals on the counterattack led to a game the Panthers had to chase from the get-go but a third-period comeback spearheaded by three Matthew Tkachuk helpers put them ahead.
A Cole Guttman goal with 44.3 seconds to go put a damper in it but that did not stop Florida.
Brandon Montour scored a highlight-reel goal on a quick backhand shot between his legs to help secure a 4-3 victory.
”[Sasha Barkov] slipped it over to me and I was thinking of holding it and making a move but I thought maybe I could catch them off guard,” Montour said.
”I haven’t seen it yet but consensus was that it was a pretty good shot on the backhadn there and it caught him off guard so it was nice to see it get through.”
Florida EBUG and Coral Springs native Zachery Andrews backed up Blackhawks goalie Petr Mrazek after Alex Stalock was deemed unavailable with an illness.
The 31-year-old played college hockey at the Division III level with UMass-Boston, going 45-12-4 record with a .906 SV% and a 2.66 GAA.
He did not get to play in the game as Mrazek finished with 21 saves.
Chicago gave him some wiggle room to work with early, with Caleb Jones scoring on a 2-on-1 and the defense in front of him essentially neutralizing the Panthers’ grind-based attack.
By the time Florida was able to turn it on Boris Katchouk tipped in a quick point shot on another rush chance to make it a two-goal hole.
And it was one the Panthers were chasing for nearly rest of the night.
The difference was that they caught it.
Florida was pushing for offense from the outset of the second period and looked frustrated when their chances were snubbed by Mrazek but the atmosphere of the game changed midway through the third period.
Once Tkachuk found Sam Bennett with a cross-crease pass that snuck through traffic for the Panthers’ first goal, the weight was lifted off their shoulders.
Sam Reinhart broke his six-game goal drought with a deflection of a Tkachuk shot 29 seconds later then Eetu Luostarinen broke the seal not too long after that.
It was the most complete third period of the season for a Florida team that has struggled mightily in the third period and one that changes the whole vibe of their push for a playoff spot.
“We had to play better in the third than we did in the first two,’’ Tkachuk said. “There was frustration. Let’s be real here; that’s a team ranked 30th in the league. We needed the win more than they did. To be down 2-0 at any point in that game was frustrating. But we know they still have stuff to play for and those are tough games. It was not the start we wanted but we did a good job in the third.”
They now sit two points behind the Pittsburgh Penguins with a chance to tie them on Saturday night against the Winnipeg Jets.
GOALS OF THE GAME
- Blackhawks 1, Panthers 0 (6:49, 1st): Caleb Jones finished off a 2-on-1 rush with Taylor Raddysh to put Chicago up early.
- Blackhawks 2, Panthers 0 (17:53, 1st): Boris Katchouk tipped a Joey Anderson shot past Sergei Bobrovsky.
- Blackhawks 2, Panthers 1 (8:29, 3rd): Sam Bennett finished off a Matthew Tkachuk feed from the doorstep.
- Panthers 2, Blackhawks 2 (8:58, 3rd): Sam Reinhart deflected a Tkachuk shot on the power play to tie the game.
- Panthers 3, Blackhawks 2 (12:42, 3rd): Eetu Luostarinen gave the Panthers the lead with a wrist shot.
- Blackhawks 3, Panthers 3 (19:16, 3rd): Cole Guttman slid a rebound past a downed Bobrovsky with less than a minute to go to tie the game.
- Panthers 4, Blackhawks 3 (2:43, OT): Brandon Montour sent a backhand shot between his legs with his back to the net to win the game.
COLBY’S 3 STARS OF THE NIGHT
1. Matthew Tkachuk, Florida
2. Eetu Luostarinen, Florida
3. Brandon Montour, Florida
PANTHERS ON DECK
WINNIPEG JETS AT FLORIDA PANTHERS
- When: Saturday, 7 p.m.
- Where: FLA Live Arena, Sunrise
- TV: 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
- This season (Winnipeg leads 1-0): Jets 5, Panthers 2 (Dec. 6)
- Last season: Florida won 2-0
- All-time regular season series: Atlanta Thrashers/Winnipeg Jets lead 51-31-8, 5 ties