If Wednesday was the final time the Florida Panthers and Carolina Hurricanes play this season well, hey, it was a pretty memorable way to end it.
And if it was not the last time these two old divisional rivals meet up, we are in for a real treat.
The Panthers, who trailed by a goal going into the final minute of the third, saw Sam Reinhart and Aaron Ekblad score in the final 1:05 of game time to beat the host Hurricanes 3-2 in overtime at PNC Arena in Raleigh.
Florida ends the regular season 3-0 against the Hurricanes after losing six of eight to Carolina last year.
”The better team won tonight,’’ Carolina coach Rod Brind’Amour said afterward.
The way both teams are going, any rematch would not come until the Eastern Conference finals.
Both would take that right now.
The Panthers and Hurricanes have certainly amped up the rivalry over the past two seasons with the Vincent Trocheck trade in 2020 and eight hard-fought games in last year’s weird Covid Central Division leading into the first two games of this season.
Then came Wednesday night’s clash broadcast nationally on TNT.
It was worthy of the big audience and probably has some network execs wondering why the Panthers — and to that point, Carolina as well — are not on a little more often.
The bad attitudes shared by both teams was on display early as the two teams were throwing bodies around as if this was, indeed, a playoff game.
Carolina had lost three of four coming out of its All-Star break and the Panthers were looking to set the tone after being off the past two weeks.
Both teams were hitting everything they saw, combining for 27 hits in the opening period with quite a few extracurriculars.
There were interactions between Sam Bennett, Owen Tippett, Radko Gudas, Ryan Lomberg and Andrei Svechnikov. Mason Marchment drilled Trocheck on an open ice hit. And a lot more.
What, was this the Panthers and Lightning?
On the board, it was a tightly-contested game.
Eetu Luostarinen, who came to Florida in the Trocheck deal, had a chance to put Florida up early but his shot went off the post.
Carolina finally made it 1-0 after that hard-fought first, scoring on a Teuvo Teravainen odd-angled shot that beat Sergei Bobrovsky with 47.5 seconds left in the period.
Lucas Carlsson kept the game that way early in the second, making a terrific save with the shaft of his stick before another shot went off the post.
Both teams had plenty of power play chances — including a Carolina 5-on-3 for two full minutes when Patric Hornqvist and Lomberg were in the box during the first — but the first three goals of the game came 5-on-5.
Sasha Barkov tied it with a real beaut, picking off a puck in the neutral zone and slipping through the defense — his moving the puck from fronthand to back around his body totally spun Brady Skjei and beat Frederik Andersen at 13:54.
Barkov was later stopped on another stout move, this one on a shorthanded look.
Early in the third, Carolina took the lead back on a long shot from defenseman Tony DeAngelo that was deflected past Bobrovsky off the skate of Gus Forsling.
Brandon Montour gave Florida a shot at tying it with 6:56 left, but his offering clanked off the goal post.
Florida was able to tie the score up in the final minute.
After Carolina missed the empty net three times with Bobrovsky on the bench, Reinhart raced to a loose puck off the back of Hornqvist and his one-timer beat Andersen with 48.3 seconds remaining.
Florida, which was 6-2 in games decided in the five-minute overtime period, made this a quick one as Ekblad scored just 16 seconds in off a breakaway pass from Jonathan Huberdeau.
Barkov and Huberdeau both ended the night with two points.
As far as special teams went, neither team scored while with the advantage.
Carolina’s penalty kill stymied Florida’s power play as it did last season with the Panthers going 0-for-5 — although that includes an eight-second run that ended due to a penalty on Anthony Duclair.
Carolina was 0-for-4, with one that went just — you guessed it — eight seconds.
GR’S THREE STARS OF THE NIGHT
1. Sasha Barkov, Florida
2. Sam Reinhart, Florida
3. Aaron Ekblad, Florida