In past years, the Florida Panthers would have been happy with leaving the Garden with a point against a red-hot Boston team.
Not this year.
In a highly-anticipated rematch of their first-round series, the Panthers jumped out to a quick two-goal lead in dominant fashion.
Only the Bruins clawed their way back and pulled out a 3-2 victory in overtime thanks to a Pavel Zacha shot off the rush.
“It was a tough building we were going into today, so we’ll take one,” Florida captain Sasha Barkov said.
“But of course, we wanted two and we are not happy with just one.”
Zacha’s overtime goal tells the story of the game.
The Panthers had possession of the puck for the majority of the overtime period, hemming the Bruins into their own zone and generating multiple quality chances.
Only Zacha picked up the errant bounce of a missed shot by Evan Rodrigues and scored on the ensuing rush to give Boston the win.
All told, Florida led 34-24 in scoring chances, 13-11 in high-danger chances and 38-26 in shots on goal.
But after the first period, they could not convert when it mattered and it ended up costing them.
“Our first period was outstanding, but we just have to learn how to keep going and play the same way when we start the right way,” Barkov said.
“It’s been happening all season. We have good periods and bad periods, and obviously, it’s early in the season, but we want to establish the game that we’re playing in all 60 minutes as hard as possible. Not just 20 or 40.”
Barkov helped jumpstart the Panthers’ offense right away.
He beat Linus Ullmark with a glove-side snipe on a 2-on-1 with Sam Reinhart 6:13 into the game.
Less than 10 minutes later, he connected with Reinhart again as Barkov passed it and Reinhart sent a one-timer through.
Reinhart now has goals in six of his past seven games and sits in a tie for second in the league in scoring.
“They’ve been shooting the puck, for one, and I think [Rodrigues] has been good there, too,” Paul Maurice said of his top line.
“They have a nice bit of chemistry. It’s not a particularly heavy line but it’s very smart.”
Things went downhill for Florida in the second period.
Brad Marchand first cut into the lead 3:38 into the period.
Then, in his first game back from a left leg injury, Sam Bennett left after getting tangled up with defenseman Hampus Lindholm.
The injury is to the same leg as Bennett did not return.
That left a huge hole in the Panthers’ offense.
“Losing Sam there effects how much energy we have,” Maurice said. ”We were rolling four lines there and then you have to start taxing people.”
Charlie McAvoy tied the game with 12:40 to go in regulation after jumping up into the rush and beating Bobrovsky glove side.
The Panthers had a big opportunity to take the lead back after McAvoy was assessed a match penalty for a hit to the head of Oliver Ekman-Larsson.
Florida could not capitalize and managed just six shots and two high-danger chances with its power play quarterback missing for the 5-minute power play.
Ekman-Larsson appeared to be pulled into concussion protocol after the shoulder hit from McAvoy and did not return to the game.
“We were not quick enough,” Barkov said. “Obviously, we had some shots and some chances but I don’t think we moved the puck quick enough, we didn’t shoot enough pucks and on that 5-minute power play, we should’ve put them on net faster and they would’ve created more chances.
The Panthers controlled play for most of the third period, outshooting Boston 12-4 but Ullmark kept the Bruins in it and helped them force overtime.
”We had three power play guys sitting in the stands watching us at that point, that hurts us a bit,” Maurice said.
”But you also have to have at your best. We still had [some good chances.] He made two or three really, really good saves.
“So, yup, that’s the way it works.”
PANTHERS ON DECK
FLORIDA PANTHERS @ DETROIT RED WINGS
- When: Thursday, 7 p.m.
- Where: Little Caesars Arena, Detroit
- Streaming/TV: Bally Sports Florida/ESPN+
- Radio: WQAM 560-AM; WBZT 1230-AM (West Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); WCZR 101.7-FM (Treasure Coast); SiriusXM
- Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932, NHL/Panthers App
- Last season: Florida won 3-0
- This season: @Detroit Thursday, March 2; @Florida Jan. 17, March 30
- All-time regular season series: Florida leads 36-19-6, 5 ties
- Up Next for the Panthers: Saturday @ Chicago, 8 p.m.