When the Florida Panthers faced off against the Carolina Hurricanes on Wednesday, it was dubbed as a potential preview of the Eastern Conference final.
Neither team disappointed — especially the Panthers.
Florida, down a goal heading into the final minute, scored twice in the final 1:05 and escaped a chippy affair with a 3-2 overtime win over the Hurricanes.
“It was playoff-style hockey,” said Aaron Ekblad, who scored the overtime winner a mere 16 seconds in off a breakaway pass from Jonathan Huberdeau.
“From puck drop, the physicality was there. We were on the penalty kill about nine or 10 times (check below). It was a pretty wild game and it was a lot of fun. Excited to play those games down the stretch.”
While the Panthers only found themselves on the penalty kill four times, it was still apparent these two teams did not like each other.
There were a collective 11 minor penalties from both sides — and of those 11, six were either a boarding, cross-checking or roughing penalty.
Florida coach Andrew Brunette called the battle between the two a “rivalry” prior to the game, but he was mostly talking about the two teams quest for the Stanley Cup.
The two teams took that distinction to a different level on Wednesday.
By the time the game was over, Ekblad said that there was “no doubt” that there was a rivalry brewing between the two sides. And probably has been for some time.
“Games like this certainly put in that direction,” Sam Reinhart said.
“We are two teams who are going to want to be there at the end and any time we can send a message throughout the year, we hope to do that and whenever it happens for real, the added sparks are going to be there after nights like this.”
It started with an Andrei Svechnikov hit on Sam Bennett away from the puck early in the first period that was not called a penalty.
Svechnikov got into it with MacKenzie Weegar shortly thereafter, with both getting tagged for roughing minors.
Patric Hornqvist got his shot at Svechnikov with 9:21 to go in the first period and was sent to the penalty box for boarding.
Ryan Lomberg joined him after taking a roughing penalty during the scrum that ensued afterward, sending the Panthers to a two-minute 5-on-3 penalty kill.
Florida managed to kill it off.
“It’s fun, actually, I really enjoy playing 5-on-3,” Ekblad said.
“Guys don’t expect to get pressured, so I try to throw in some pressure whenever possible and we did a good job and Bob made some big saves.”
Sergei Bobrovsky made two saves on that 5-on-3, but they were those exclamation point type saves that kept the game tied.
Teuvo Teravainen broke the ice with 45.7 seconds to go in the opening frame, as a puck took a wild bounce off of Bobrovsky’s stick and past him.
When it was all said and done, the two teams combined for 12 penalty minutes after the first period.
They did not need any fights or majors to hit that number either: Six minor penalties were called in 20 minutes.
Lucas Carlsson opened the second with a bang, not with physicality, but with a big save.
Diving across the crease, Carlsson just got his stick on a Jesperi Kotkaniemi shot to keep it a one-goal game around four minutes into the middle frame.
“It was an unbelievable save, it was Bob-like,” Brunette said. “It was a huge play at the time.”
The physicality did not stop in the second period either.
Mason Marchment laid a big hit on Vincent Trocheck just under seven minutes into the second period.
Carolina did not like that.
Later on in the period, Radko Gudas was seen having a conversation with Canes defenseman Tony DeAngelo.
Whatever they were saying, it was not pleasant.
However, Sasha Barkov was able to upstage Carlsson for the biggest moment of the second period.
With 6:51 to go in the second period, Barkov tied the game up with a beautiful backhand goal.
And, of course, it was put on full display for a national television audience on TNT.
“He never ceases to amaze,” Brunette said.
“He is such an underrated, talented player. It was kind of fun that it was on national TV, hopefully, the world got to see what he brings to us every night and maybe it will shine a light on how skilled he is and how hard he competes”
DeAngelo tied the game up 3:13 into the third period, but it was all Panthers from there.
While the penalties died down, with none of them coming after the second intermission, the Panthers dominated 11-2 in shots on goal.
None of those shots went in until Reinhart picked up a rebound with 49 seconds to go to tie the game and eventually send it to overtime.
Ekblad then struck 16 seconds into overtime to win the game for the Panthers.
“It was kind of a playoff-style checking game, nobody was given an inch, and I thought our guys rose to the challenge,” Brunette said.
GR’S THREE STARS OF THE NIGHT
1. Sasha Barkov, Florida
2. Sam Reinhart, Florida
3. Aaron Ekblad, Florida