SUNRISE — On paper, the Florida Panthers should have had an easy one on Monday afternoon.
The Panthers, after all, were fighting for their postseason life while Anaheim was tied with Columbus for the fewest points in the entire NHL.
Thing is, the Panthers already lost to the Jackets earlier this season.
Monday, they almost lost to Anaheim in a most similar fashion.
In both games, the Panthers dominated the metrics, out-chancing their opponent by large margins.
Only the scoreboard does not care about scoring chances nor Corsi or anything else.
Unlike that game in Columbus where they dominated everything but the scoreboard in November, the Panthers did end up winning on Monday afternoon.
They rallied from an early 2-0 deficit, then had to tie the score at 3 in the third before Carter Verhaeghe won it 4-3 in overtime.
With 22 games left, the Panthers are going to go into games they should win, games they will not be favored in and your run-of-the-mill tossups.
Nothing is going to come easy if the Panthers want to make the playoffs this season.
Not games against the bottom-feeders like the Ducks nor games against the powerhouse teams like the Maple Leafs, Hurricanes or Rangers.
“I do not know how many years I have been in the league, but I have learned there are no easy games in the NHL,” said Sergei Bobrovsky, who made 29 saves in Florida’s win on Monday.
“The league is just too strong, the teams are too good. Every single team has skilled players and they all take pride in their game. It is never going to be easy regardless of where teams are in the standings. I don’t care where they are, the margin of error is small and you have to bring your best every single game.”
By beating the Ducks, the Panthers officially moved into a playoff spot.
And, most likely, temporarily.
Hours after the Panthers squeaked by the Ducks, the New York Islanders rallied past the Penguins.
As things stand this morning, Florida and the Isles hold the two wild card spots with the Penguins a point out and Washington two points back.
Both teams have played fewer games than Florida and the Islanders have.
Although the games-in-hand situation could turn out to be worrisome moving forward, the Panthers are not worried about what other teams are going to do moving forward.
They have to win the games in front of them.
And, the battle Anaheim gave the Panthers only shows there are no easy games on the schedule.
Florida is going to have to bring it every night moving forward.
“We need the points and I have been around long enough to know we cannot wait,” Eric Staal said. “Anaheim is young, have guys in a different spot but we need those points. We needed to be engaged and ready and sometimes, you have to drag everyone into it. That comes with hard-nosed play … we were all fighting to get those two points.”
On Monday afternoon, the Panthers had to find their own motivation against a loose Anaheim team playing for nothing but pride at this point.
Bobrovsky lost sight of the puck on Anaheim’s first goal with Frank Vatrano making it 2-0 moments after being feted by his former team on a power play chance.
The Panthers took over the game in the second, working their way toward 94 scoring chances in the game with the Staal Brothers scoring to tie it going into the third.
Truthfully, the Panthers should have been up big. Instead, it was tied — with former Florida defenseman Dmitry Kulikov giving Anaheim a 3-2 lead.
Ryan Lomberg ended up tying the score again not long after by knocking in a Gus Forsling shot and the two teams went into overtime.
It was there that Verhaeghe got his first 30-goal season by walking in on John Gibson on a breakaway and scoring in overtime.
Monday was tougher than it should have been — and the Panthers had better get used to it.
”I am happy with the win. I am,” Bobrovsky said. “At this time of the year, two points are the biggest thing for us. The game was there for us and our team took over in the second period and had opportunities for success in the third.
“We are taking baby steps. We are getting there. We are close and coming together. Our game is coming together and we are getting strong.”
PANTHERS ON DECK
BUFFALO SABRES AT FLORIDA PANTHERS
- When: Friday, 7 p.m.
- Where: FLA Live Arena, Sunrise
- TV/Streaming: Bally Sports Florida; ESPN+
- Radio: WPOW 96.5-FM2; WBZT 1230-AM (Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); SiriusXM
- Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932
- Season Series (Florida leads 2-0): Panthers 4, Sabres 3 (Oct. 15); Panthers 4, Sabres 1 (Jan. 16)
- Last season: Florida won 3-0
- All-time regular season series: Florida leads 53-44-8, 4 ties
- Up Next for the Panthers: Feb. 28 at Tampa Bay, 7 p.m.