The Florida Panthers will be headed to the playoffs in a few weeks, opponent unknown.
One team Florida will not face is the Ottawa Senators.
The Panthers are probably just fine with that.
Ottawa gave the Eastern Conference-leading Panthers all they could handle once more on Saturday, taking a three-goal lead before Florida came back and pulled off a 4-3 shootout win on Saturday night.
Florida has now won nine of its past 11 road games.
Ottawa, now 1-1-1 against Florida, plays host to the Panthers in the penultimate game of the 2021-22 regular season on April 28.
Florida, which has a big Atlantic Division meeting against Toronto on Sunday night, did just about everything right against the Sens but as was the case earlier this month, struggled to get much past Ottawa goalie Anton Forsberg.
Down 3-0 early in the second, the Panthers finally got something going midway through the second and scored twice — once off unconventional means — within a span of 62 seconds.
Anthony Duclair, making his return to Ottawa for the first time after not being made a qualifying offer by the Sens in 2020, got Florida on the board by one-timing a Claude Giroux power play feed at 8:55 of the period.
Just over a minute later, Patric Hornqvist drove in and jammed the puck off the side of the net.
The puck got behind Forsberg and it appeared he trapped the puck up against the goal cage.
But after a lengthy video review, one camera angle showed the puck in the webbing of Forsberg’s glove which was fully over the line — and the Panthers had cut its deficit to a single goal.
Ottawa, despite being outplayed and out-chanced throughout the game, still held a lead going into the third period thanks to its play in the first 27 minutes of the game.
The Sens took the initial lead 7:54 into the game when Alex Formenton banged a shot of Sergei Bobrovsky — who was making his first start in more than two weeks.
Defenseman Artem Zub made it 2-0 at 15:36 when he followed up his own rebound (which appeared to ricochet off Ben Chiarot’s skate) and beat Bobrovsky stick side.
The Panthers, despite outshooting the Sens 19-8, went into the second down 2-0.
Ottawa then made it 3-0 at 6:47 of the period when MacKenzie Weegar’s pass off the back wall was picked off and Dylan Gambrell cashed in.
Florida trailed 3-2 going into the third and continued to put heat on Forsberg and the Sens but failed to get anything through for much of it.
Brandon Montour had a nice opportunity to tie the score by driving in on Forsberg but he was able to make a sliding save with his pads.
Another review came to see if the puck slid through, but this time, the puck was out of view.
With 2:55 left, Florida called Bobrovsky to the bench for the extra attacker.
The move paid off as Giroux won a faceoff deep in the Ottawa zone, flied the puck back to Barkov who wound up and blasted away from the blue line.
Barkov’s shot made its way through traffic and appeared to deflect off the skate of Ottawa’s Nikita Zaitsev to tie the score with 2:16 remaining.
The game went to overtime and the Panthers had numerous scoring chances — as did the Sens with Bobrovsky making a couple big saves.
With 1:27 left, Weegar — who was stopped on a breakaway of his own earlier in overtime — was called for hooking, giving Ottawa a 4-on-3 power play chance.
Bobrovsky ended up making three saves in overtime as the game remained tied and went to a shootout.
Florida ended the night outshooting the Sens 49-22; shot attempts were 81-52.
Bobrovsky got better and better as the night wore on and made all three saves in the shootout.
Barkov was the only player to score in the skill competition.
HUBERDEAU PASSES WEISS
Jonathan Huberdeau played in his 655th NHL game to become the all-time leader in Panthers’ franchise history, surpassing Stephen Weiss.
Huberdeau played in 17 games with Weiss as a rookie in 2013.
While Huberdeau went on to win the Calder Trophy for top NHL rookie that season, Weiss’ season was cut short due to wrist surgery.
He was not offered a contract by the Panthers — the team was quietly for sale, with Vinnie Viola buying them months later — and he signed a free agent deal with the Red Wings.
After the game, Huberdeau said Weiss sent him a congratulatory text message.
GR’S THREE STARS OF THE GAME
1. Sasha Barkov, Florida
2. Anton Forsberg, Ottawa
3. Anthony Duclair, Florida
UP NEXT FOR THE FLORIDA PANTHERS
FLORIDA PANTHERS AT TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS
- When: Sunday, 7 p.m.
- Where: Scotiabank Arena, Toronto
- TV/Streaming: Bally Sports Florida
- Radio: WQAM 560-AM/SiriusXM
- Last season: Did not play
- All-time regular season series: Toronto leads 44-34-5, 7 ties
- This season: First meeting