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Florida Panthers Feel Alright Exiting Tough Stretch

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Matthew Tkachuk celebrates his goal 37 seconds into Saturday’s game against the host Boston Bruins. Florida lost 3-2 in overtime. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

The Florida Panthers looked like themselves once again Saturday in a duel of Atlantic Division titans in a 3-2 overtime loss to the Boston Bruins.

Jesper Boqvist made the difference in the 3-on-3 overtime, scoring on a quick breakaway midway through.

Aside from that, the Panthers liked their game.

“I think our effort was really good,” captain Sasha Barkov said. “They got the lead there in the second period but we stuck with it, we played how we wanted to play and [Sergei Bobrovsky] was really good in net. You want to win these games but we came up short today.”

It has been a while since Florida has been able to string together consecutive games where they looked like the team they have been for much of this season.

The Panthers are 4-7-2 in their past 13 games, a stretch marred by a number of players coming in-and-out of the lineup due to injury and illness.

Florida went 1-0-1 in the final two games of that stretch, picking up a dominant 6-0 win in Ottawa before falling short in Boston.

“Our effort is there, our intensity is there,” Barkov said. “Guys are making plays and having fun again.”

Florida played its playoff style of game and had to grind pretty hard to get the extra point out of Boston.

Matthew Tkachuk got the Panthers on the board 37 seconds into the game, picking up a Vladimir Tarasenko dump-in which bounced right to him before picking his corner and sniping it past Linus Ullmark.

After that, offense was hard to come by for Florida.

Charlie McAvoy tied things up 5:42 into the first and the Panthers found themselves on the kill for a large portion of the period.

And they did well.

They killed off all three penalties, allowed just four shots and zero high-danger chances, with Anton Lundell even getting a high-danger opportunity after slipping past Boston’s defense thanks to a slick pass by Sam Reinhart.

“We’ve had the opportunity to work on it regularly and heavily in the last month,” coach Paul Maurice said. “It’s going to be the difference for us because we are going to be in the box.”

But things could not hold on the penalty kill forever.

On Florida’s fourth penalty kill of the game, Charlie Coyle deflected a Brad Marchand pass home and the Bruins took a 2-1 lead with 4:15 to go in the second period.

Maurice did not look happy with some of the penalties that were called — as well as others that were not — during the game.

Did not sound too happy afterward, either.

“We’re not fixing it,” Maurice said. “We’re going to do everything we can to stay out of the box, but it’s not going to happen. The other team is not going into the box, so we have to kill penalties as hard as we can and score some goals.”

The Panthers provided some major pushback in the third period.

They outshot Boston 13-5, held a 16-3 lead in scoring chances and a 4-1 lead in high-danger chances, and picked up the tying goal 5:24 into the period.

Barkov banked home a Reinhart rebound to tie the game and extend his point streak to seven games.

He has five goals and 10 points since returning from a lingering lower-body injury on March 26 against the Bruins in Sunrise.

Driven by Barkov, the Panthers pushed hard for the rest of the period and played their game.

“Every game is going to be like that, if not even more intense,” Barkov said. “Playing games like this is always good for us. They’re really intense, high-speed and high pace, so we’re really enjoying being in those moments and those games.”

Even after falling short in overtime, with Boqvist ripping the puck off of Oliver Ekman-Larsson’s stick and scoring on the breakaway, Florida is feeling the most confident it has been in about a month.

Coming off a brutal stretch of 10 games in 17 days, the Panthers showed the willpower to make a comeback and control the 5-on-5 side of the game to earn a point in Boston.

And, they are getting closer to the style of game they want to see from themselves once the playoffs roll around in two weeks.

“It was good for us,” Maurice said. “We defined some things. We got our focus narrowed down to be good at two or three things.  We have been in the last two or three games especially and it has driven the rest of our game.”

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