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Florida Panthers go all ‘Comeback Cats’ once again

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Florida Panthers Jonathan Huberdeau, Sam Bennett, MacKenzie Weegar and Sam Reinhart celebrate a goal at FLA Live Arena last month. // Roger Lee Photographer (561) 866-2000

COLUMBUS — It does not seem to matter what the score is nor how much time is remaining, the Florida Panthers are going to keep coming.

Sometimes, as was the case earlier this season in New York, the Panthers simply ran out of time.

Other times are like Saturday night in Sunrise.

The Panthers seem to enjoy living on the edge and Saturday’s 5-4 overtime win against the San Jose Sharks was yet another example.

Florida simply does not panic.

It just continues to come at teams at waves and, for the most part, opposing teams cave under the pressure.

“It was a lot of fun” coach Andrew Brunette said. “The group is just relentless. I think the feeling on the bench was we were having trouble scoring, but we were close.

“We just needed one play, then another. And we got a great one in overtime. It was a fun game. I am sure we are a very entertaining team. I think our fans left happy.”

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Eight times this season, the Panthers have rallied to win a game they trailed in during the third period.

Only the Colorado Avalanche has done that as many times this season.

Florida, leading the league with 23 home wins this season, are now the first team since the 1995-96 Detroit Red Wings to have a pair of nine-game home winning streaks in the same season.

Those Wings got beat by the Avs in the Western Conference finals. Florida fans may remember that Colorado team.

Hey, the Panthers and Avs may just be on a collision course for a 1996 rematch.

Saturday it was former Florida goalie James Reimer who came under attack by the high-flying Panthers, a team which took 90 shot attempts during the course of the game.

Reimer gave up five goals in the loss — but he was the only thing standing in the way of Florida blowing this thing wide open in the second period.

The Panthers stared down not one but a pair of two-goal deficits in the third period alone Saturday night.

Usually, blame would go to the goalie if a team ended up losing such a game.

Reimer simply had no chance — although he did his level best in keeping it a 4-4 game and forcing overtime where the Sharks at least got a point in the standings.

”That’s our team. We have a lot of character,” said Jonathan Huberdeau, who had three points and walked out of the arena the NHL’s leading scorer with 62 points.

“We would like to get the lead but we’re getting a lot of comebacks at home. That crowd tonight was amazing and really got us going.”

Florida, playing in front of an announced 18,152 which is the largest home crowd of the season, trailed 2-0 in the first period before Gus Forlsing scored in the final minute.

The Sharks made it 3-1 early in the second and the Panthers came after Reimer guns blazing.

Reimer stood tall in the second, stopping all 18 shots he faced.

For the most part, his Sharks teammates were on the defensive. While the Panthers took 90 shot attempts, the Sharks mustered only 44.

“A lack of finish, maybe a little bit,” Brunette said when asked about his team’s play prior to the third period outbreak.

“Give them credit; they blocked shots, they battled their butts off and got great goaltending. We had trouble scoring. They got a couple power plays but we kept grinding it out.

”We got into that wave-after-wave momentum and we were going. We just didn’t get rewarded for it.”

Sasha Barkov made it a 3-2 game on Huberdeau’s first assist of the night but a second power play goal put the Sharks back up by a pair of goals.

Carter Verhaeghe appeared to make it a 4-3 game, but Huberdeau was offside before the goal so it came off the board.

Mason Marchment ended up doing the honors a few minutes later and the large crowd in Sunrise was hip to the action.

“The crowd was great and really gave us some energy in the third. That’s huge,” Marchment said. “Like you see, everyone on our team loves each other and we battle for each other and we have a blast doing that.

“That just builds more chemistry, coming back in a game like that. For the most part, we controlled it. We fell behind a bit but we have the resilience to battle back and that means a lot to our team.”

The barn was really rocking two minutes later when Verhaeghe and Huberdeau teamed up for the game-tying goal.

It was then up to Reimer to keep things status quo. To his teammates credit, the Sharks had a couple of nice scoring chances pushed aside by Sergei Bobrovsky.

In overtime, the Cats’ comeback was complete when Huberdeau’s fancy stickwork behind the net led to Sam Bennett’s 21st goal of the season.

“We were not giving up,” Huberdeau said. “We had a lot of chances and Reimer was making big saves. We needed a couple of goals, got them and put the pressure on them. It is a big two points for us.”

DUCLAIR SITS

Brunette shortened the Florida bench, going with three lines for much of the third period as the Panthers made their furious comeback.

Anthony Duclair did not see much ice time.

Duclair went from starting the game on Florida’s second line to being on the bench for a lot of the third period. He only played four shifts and did not see the ice for the final six minutes nor overtime.

When the Panthers open up against Columbus Monday night, do not be surprised to see Duclair back with Huberdeau and Bennett.

“It was guys who were going and I didn’t think he was on his A-game tonight,” Brunette said. “I thought everyone else was playing and he had some opportunities. But we shortened the bench a little bit and you’re going to play your best players.

“We’re so deep, the other three lines were going better. He got the short end of the stick. But we’re going to need him. He still creates all the time. We just shortened things and the guys who were going were going to play.”

— Expect Sergei Bobrovsky to be back in net for the Panthers on Monday night as he makes yet another return to Columbus.

In his first season with the Panthers, Bobrovsky went 1-1-1 against his former teammates; he has gone 6-0 since.

FLORIDA PANTHERS ON DECK

FLORIDA PANTHERS AT COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS

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