The Florida Panthers find themselves in a very familiar spot heading into Game 4 of their first-round series against the Washington Capitals.
In each of their past three postseason appearances, they found themselves down 2-1 heading into the fourth game.
The Panthers won the pivotal Game 4 once, tying up their 2016 series with the New York Islanders at 2-2 before dropping the next two games in double overtime.
This is a different Panthers squad than the one that took the ice in 2016 — and even the one which fell behind 3-1 to the Tampa Bay Lightning before losing in six games last year.
Only Aaron Ekblad, Sasha Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau remain from that 2016 team.
Since then, the Panthers added season playoff veterans in Claude Giroux, Patric Hornqvist and Ben Chiarot who will try to help steer the Panthers back on course.
“You just show by example,” Chiarot said. “You can kind of say it in the room, but guys have to kind of experience for themselves to see what it feels like, and you kind of lead by example.”
Outside of Chiarot, Hornqvist, Giroux and 2020 Stanley Cup Champion Carter Verhaeghe, only a handful of other players on the Panthers have made it past the first round in the playoffs before.
None of those players include Florida’s core of Barkov, Huberdeau and Ekblad.
Ekblad, in particular, went six seasons without suiting up in a playoff game (not counting their early exit in the 2020 bubble) after missing the 2021 playoffs with a lower-body injury.
“Speaking on a personal level, I haven’t played in a playoff game in six years, so I was as nervous as I could coming off of a six-week break coming into my first playoff game in that amount of time,” Ekblad said.
“There were no doubt a little bit of nerves, but I think those nerves have passed us by and we’re in the fire of the fight. It’s important we kind of learn from, but forget the last three games of the series and just refocus on one simple game.”
The Capitals, with their suffocating defense in both the slot and the neutral zone, have held each of the three of them to just two points through the first three games of the postseason.
“We just need them to be them, nothing more, nothing less,” Panthers coach Andrew Brunette said.
“We don’t have to try too hard to do something we’re not, we just need to be us.”
A lot of it had to do with Florida’s nerves causing pucks to swing the other way, but it also had to do with their frustration leading to lost puck battles.
“To me, frustration has taken over for some reason and when you’re frustrated, it usually means you’re not working hard enough,” Brunette said.
“Our compete has not been where it has been all year. It could be nerves, but we have to find a way and you get frustrated when you’re not working hard, and that’s kind of the case right now, and you do undisciplined things when you’re frustrated.”
It has really shown on the power play, which has only generated four high-danger chances on an 0-9 clip.
All four of those high-danger chances have come from the second unit and three of them belong to Hornqvist, who has been one of the only Panthers consistently winning those puck battles.
“I don’t know if we got in front of them enough, and credit to them, but we did not will ourselves to get inside,” Brunette said.
“I don’t even know if there were any rebounds we got to and we score a lot of goals in that area. We’re just not getting in there.”
Heading into Game 4, the objective is simple: win puck battles and to get a couple of goals off of those rebounds.
“This time of year, every battle is hard,” Brunette said. “Every team is clogging things up and playing hard nd we just have to find that resiliency in our game to break through.”
NHL STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS
PANTHERS V. CAPITALS (WSH leads 2-1)
- Game 4: Monday, 7 p.m.
- Where: Capital One Arena, Washington D.C.
- TV/Streaming: Bally Sports Florida, TBS
- Radio: WQAM 560 (Miami/Fort Lauderdale); WMEN 640 (Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3 (Florida Keys); SiriusXM
- Tickets: CLICK HERE
PANTHERS V. CAPITALS
- Regular season series — Florida won 2-1: @Florida 5, Washington 4 OT (Nov. 4); @Washington 4, Panthers 3 (Nov. 26); @Florida 5, Washington 4 (Nov. 30)
- All-time regular season series: Capitals lead 67-44-11, 9 ties
- Playoff history: First meeting
- First-round schedule — Game 1: Washington 4, @Florida 2; Game 2: @Florida 5, Washington 1; Game 3: @Washington 6, Florida 1; Game 4: Florida at Washington, Monday, 7 (TBS/BSF); Game 5: Washington at Florida, Wednesday, 7:30 (ESPN2/BSF); Game 6*: Florida at Washington, Friday; Game 7: Washington at Florida, May 15. *If necessary