Neither rain nor sleet nor the abrupt resignation of their head coach slowed down the Florida Panthers on Friday night as they remained unbeaten to start the 2021-22 season by beating the host Detroit Red Wings 3-2 in overtime.
It has been quite a few days — a “whirlwind” new interim coach Andrew Brunette described it — yet the Panthers keep on doing what they have been doing of late.
And that is winning.
Sasha Barkov was the hero of the night, scoring to make it 2-0 and then ending it in overtime.
”It was very emotional for our whole group,’’ said Brunette, who won in his NHL head coaching debut. “I was really proud in the way they rallied under some really difficult circumstances the past few days. Really proud of them. Then a great play from Barky; what a goal. Big win. … To be honest, I was more happy for them. It was a tough, tough stretch.”
The Panthers have not only won their first eight games of the new season, but they have won their past 14 regular season games dating back to a 4-1 loss in Nashville back on April 26.
Florida went into last year’s opening-round playoff series riding a six-game winning streak.
This version of the Panthers are now just the seventh team in NHL history to start off 8-0. The all-time record for an unbeaten start to a season is 10-0.
Florida tries for No. 9 Saturday in Boston.
This game got off to an understandably slow start but once the Panthers drew first blood, they looked like the good-old-new team South Florida is now starting to get excited about.
Detroit, a much improved team, wouldn’t go away and the superb goaltending of former Carolina netminder Alex Nedeljkovic kept things close — as Detroit tied the score with 2:41 remaining.
Florida entered the second holding a 2-0 lead as Sergei Bobrovsky (28 saves) made a couple of nice saves and ended the period with 11 stops.
Eetu Luostarinen got his second goal in as many games as he clipped a point shot from Markus Nutivaara — in the lineup for the first time this season due to injury — and put it past Nedeljkovic (29).
Nedeljkovic, who as a Carolina rookie stoned the Panthers all of last season, then gave up a second goal with 1:11 left on a great hustle play from Anthony Duclair and Barkov.
After Florida killed off a penalty, Barkov picked up the puck on the side boards and started up the ice with Duclair moving in.
Duclair fumbled the puck as he approached Nedjelkovic, but stayed with it, fired it back and banked it off the goalie from the end boards.
Nedeljkovic got a piece of the puck but could not control it, Barkov jamming it through.
The Red Wings got on the board as Bobrovsky gave up yet another tough-luck goal as a long shot from Troy Stecher was deflected by Sam Gagner and got through at 2:15 of the second.
Florida continued playing a hard game, but the improved Red Wings — and some strong goaltending from Nedeljkovic — wouldn’t let the Panthers open things up.
Both teams had a pair of power play chances in the third period and Florida’s kill neutralized Detroit while Nedeljkovic did most of the damage to the Panthers.
With just under six minutes left, the Panthers put on a shooting clinic — and the Red Wings blocked four of those shots with Nedeljkovic making three saves. That could have been the game for Florida but they just couldn’t get anything through.
Detroit ended the night with a whopping 21 blocked shots.
The Wings used that momentum and tied the score on a deflection in front from Pius Suter, the puck trickling past Bobrovsky.
In overtime, Gus Forsling had a good chance that was stopped by his former Carolina and Charlotte teammate with 3:20 remaining.
Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau got loose with the two former linemates hooking up just like old times with Huberdeau sliding a pass that Barkov knocked through with 91 seconds remaining in the extra frame.
GR’S THREE STARS OF THE NIGHT
1. Sasha Barkov, Florida
2. Sergei Bobrovsky, Florida
3. Alex Nedeljkovic, Detroit