SUNRISE — The Florida Panthers have been dubbed the ‘Comeback Cats’ numerous times over the past few years for their ability to bounce back from third period deficits. Especially at home.
Tuesday night, the Panthers were on the other side of things.
Florida, which had won its past three games, was on the losing end of a rare home comeback by the opposition as the Nashville Predators rallied in the third period for a 6-4 victory over the Panthers.
While the Panthers rode a nine-game home winning streak coming into the game, Nashville was feeling some serious angst.
The Predators came in riding a four-game losing streak and had not won since Feb. 1 — just before the NHL’s All-Star Break.
For a team in the thick of a Western Conference playoff race, well, a win was needed.
Tuesday it was pretty apparent as the Preds sat All-Star netminder Jusse Saros and started backup David Rittich.
“We knew they were a desperate team and they showed it tonight,” Sam Bennett said.
“We had chances to bury the game and really take control and we let them back in. They pushed hard. But we can’t let them back in that easily.”
The Panthers held a 3-1 lead over the Predators midway through the second period on an absolute beauty of a goal from Aaron Ekblad.
Yet Nashville immediately bounced back and tied the score less than two minutes later.
“You could see that they were battling,” said Radko Gudas, who scored his first of the season to give the Panthers a 2-1 lead.
“I think we lost more battles than we usually do, especially on the walls, but I thought we could have beaten them. I thought we had the power and I thought we had the opportunities.”
Bennett gave the Panthers a 4-3 lead 8:11 into the third, but it was a short-lived lead, much like the 3-1 lead Florida had in the second.
Nashville’s Tanner Jeannot tied the score with a shorthanded breakaway off of an Ekblad turnover in the Florida zone less than three minutes after the Panthers retook the lead.
This came after the Preds had a goal taken off the board for goalie interference after coach Andrew Brunette won his video challenge.
To make matters worse, Bennett took a cross-checking penalty with 5:48 to go.
The Predators cashed in on that power play just 17 seconds in, Mikael Granlund knocking a rebound past Sergei Bobrovsky.
“There are a lot of learning curves there and I have to take a lot of the responsibility,” Bennett said.
“I can’t take a penalty there in the last (six) minutes. That is a crucial play that I can’t do and I’m going to take responsibility for that one for sure tonight.”
Jeannot scored his second goal of the game on the empty net to secure the victory for the Predators.
Bobrovsky was not his usual self at times either for Florida.
Allowing five goals on 33 shots, he appeared a little burned out after playing in his fourth game in the past seven days.
Florida’s defensive gaffs did not help matters.
Meanwhile, backup Jonas Johansson has not played a game for the Panthers all season after being claimed off of waivers in December. Spencer Knight remains in the AHL due to a number of reasons.
Bobrovsky carrying the load allows Knight to get some playing time in Charlotte and the Panthers need the roster space.
Brunette would not whether Johansson may get a start to relieve Bobrovsky’s workload.
With the Columbus Blue Jackets coming in Thursday, don’t expect Bobrovsky to get Thursday off.
Bobrovsky has won his past six starts against the Blue Jackets and is 8-1-2 against Columbus since leaving central Ohio for sunny South Florida as a free agent in 2019.
Florida has blown out Columbus in the two meetings between the two this season but Bob loves playing the Jackets — although they are playing a much-improved brand of hockey since losing 8-4 to the Panthers at home on Jan. 31..
Tuesday’s loss snapped Bobrovsky’s personal six-game winning streak as he is gone 14-3 since Dec. 29.
The Panthers, meanwhile, dropped to 23-4-0 at home this season.
Florida has four more games remaining in this homestand.
“As a group, we were not sharp in front of Bob tonight and we gave them too many opportunities,” Brunette said.
“We could be a little bit better, but like a lot of things tonight, I didn’t like our execution in big moments.”
FLORIDA PANTHERS ON DECK
COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS AT FLORIDA PANTHERS
- When: Thursday, 7 p.m.
- Where: FLA Live Arena, Sunrise
- Tickets: CLICK HERE
- Streaming only: Hulu/ESPN+
- Radio: WQAM 560-AM, SiriusXM
- Last season: Florida won 7-0-1
- This season — Florida leads 2-0: @Florida 9, Columbus 2 (Jan. 15); Florida 8, @Columbus 4 (Jan. 31)
- All-time regular season series: Columbus leads 24-15-4