SUNRISE — The Florida Panthers found themselves down a couple of top players to start the third period of their match-up with the Minnesota Wild.
After already missing Aaron Ekblad with an upper-body injury sustained early in the first period, the Panthers lost Gus Forsling and Sam Bennett to injuries of their own in the second period.
Forsling returned to the game — and scored the eventual game-winner — but the other two did not.
The Panthers still had to play with four defensemen for the majority of the third period and it was a task made harder with goalies Sergei Bobrovsky and Spencer Knight out with injury.
Third-string goalie Alex Lyon came in and helped the shorthanded Panthers take a 5-3 win in his first NHL start of the season.
“To me, these are the kind of games you play for,” Lyon said.
”There are so many guys digging in and playing with four defenseman and there are massive points on the line, so to me, this is fun and this where you get to test your true mettle.”
Lyon was thrust into his first hint of NHL action early in the team’s win in Montreal on Thursday when Bobrovsky went down and he answered the bell with saves on 23 of 25 shots.
He got his chance to make his first NHL start of the season on Saturday and he delivered with 29 saves on 32 shots.
“He is a battler and his personality is what you see in the net,” Panthers coach Paul Maurice said. ”He is scrambling and he is fighting for pucks.”
The Panthers have rallied around the 30-year-old netminder at a time where they really need to pick up points.
After falling below .500 at the midway point of the season, Florida has righted its ship to the tune of 7-2-1 in their last nine games and is right back in the playoff race.
Lyon’s two wins have helped the Panthers keep equal footing in the wildcard race.
”Every time he makes a save, the bench goes crazy,” Maurice said.
”It seems to be right now that the energy we need is a guy like that playing the way he is playing because we are looking for anywhere you can get some juice and fuel in the tank and he seems to be driving that.”
Lyon’s time as the definite starter may be shortlived with Knight close to returning after posting a 23-save shutout in an AHL conditioning stint and Bobrovsky likely a week away from returning, but he is going to ride it out as much as he can.
”I love playing here,” Lyon said.
“I just have to enjoy the moment, stay in the moment and move forward because we don’t have much time to breathe.”
The Panthers are looking to ride off of this momentum as well with a very important two-game trip coming up.
Florida will take on Eastern Conference contenders in the New York Rangers and Pittsburgh Penguins on Monday and Tuesday.
As things stand right now, they currently sit two points behind those Penguins for the final wildcard spot in the East and are tied for ninth in the conference.
”The challenge is only growing with the teams we have left, so building on that momentum is important,” Sam Reinhart said. ”Tonight was a big step in the right direction.”
Florida is now on a five-game point streak and has a chance to go on a three-game win streak for the first time this season in New York on Monday.
GOALS OF THE GAME
- Panthers 1, Wild 0 (19:47, 1st): Anton Lundell glided into open space and beat Filip Gustavsson with a wrist shot.
- Panthers 2, Wild 0 (1:40, 2nd): Eetu Luostarinen picks Sam Steel’s pocket and beats Gustavsson with a backhander.
- Panthers 2, Wild 1 (8:56, 2nd): Matt Boldy tucks home a feed from Joel Eriksson Ek on the power play.
- Panthers 3, Wild 1 (19:32, 2nd): Carter Verhaeghe scored on a one-timer from the face-off circle off of a feed from Brandon Montour on the power play.
- Panthers 3, Wild 2 (4:37, 3rd): Eriksson Ek cashed in on the power play off of a feed from Kirill Kaprizov.
- Panthers 4, Wild 2 (7:51, 3rd): Gus Forsling beat Gustavsson with a wrist shot off of a feed from Grigori Denisenko.
- Panthers 4, Wild 3 (18:34, 3rd): Jared Spurgeon beat Alex Lyon with a blast from the point.
- Panthers 5, Wild 3 (19:22, 3rd): Sam Reinhart empty-netter.
LUNDELL HEATING UP
Anton Lundell has been on fire since the Panthers moved him to the wing and he helped set the tone again on Saturday night.
His late first period goal gave Florida the mojo they needed to grab the momentum to start the second and he did it with the added confidence he has had with his shot since making the move.
Since making the move to the wing on Jan. 10, he has three goals and five points in seven games. The 21-year-old is now on a four-game point streak where he has scored three goals and four points.
”He is so smart and it’s been a pretty easy adjustment for him,” Sam Reinhart said.
”I said to him tonight was probably the best game I’ve seen him play. He was just so heavy in the battle, he was using his body and he was competing out there so it was great to see.”
BENNETT, EKBLAD LIKELY BACK MONDAY
Maurice said that Sam Bennett and Aaron Ekblad’s absences were due to fatigue-related injuries rather than anything substantial.
The team is in a grueling stretch of nine of 11 home games that has not been friendly to their bodies. Both injuries seem to be more related to soreness.
“I wouldn’t even list them as day-to-day where they may be ready to go for New York. I just couldn’t get them back into the game,” Maurice said.
“This is all a function of what we are going through and I am surprised this hasn’t happened earlier. You are going to get these kinds of overuse injuries in our schedule.”
DENISENKO’S HARD WORK REWARDED WITH ASSIST
Grigori Deniseko has been noticeably hard on pucks since he was called up ahead of Monday’s game in Buffalo and he was finally rewarded with an assist on the game-winner.
He used his speed and strength to create a few scoring chances early on and picked up his assist by winning a puck battle behind the net and sending a floater of a pass for a wide-open Forsling to catch.
“In the last three games, he has shown us what his skilset is and what he can do,” Maurice said.
”He is willing to go into the dark areas, he can hang onto pucks and he can make plays under pressure. That alone can get you in the NHL as long as you are consistent with it and he was that all night.”
COLBY’S THREE STARS OF THE GAME
1. Gus Forsling , Florida (goal)
2. Joel Eriksson Ek, Minnesota (goal, assist)
3. Alex Lyon, Florida (win)
PANTHERS ON DECK
FLORIDA PANTHERS AT NEW YORK RANGERS
- When: Monday, 7 p.m.
- Where: Madison Square Garden, New York
- 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
- Last season: Rangers won 2-1
- This season (Rangers lead 1-0): Rangers 5, Panthers 3 (Jan. 1)
- All-time regular season series: Rangers lead 58-32-8, 6 ties
- Up Next for the Panthers: Tuesday at Pittsburgh Penguins, 7 p.m.