TAMPA — What a difference a week made for the Florida Panthers.
Last Saturday, the team was celebrating a series win against the Capitals by literally basking in the sun.
Fast forward to Saturday morning and there were the Panthers trying to practice through the fog, high humidity in the air casting a pall on the work the team was trying to get done.
Now down 2-0 to the Tampa Bay Lightning with the series moving to the west side of the state, the foggy conditions were almost fitting following Thursday’s last-second loss to the Lightning.
Usually, teams want to get right back at it but coach Andrew Brunette said he thinks having Friday to deal with the loss before coming back to work Saturday will help his team in the long run.
That’s his hope, anyway.
”Those things, you say you have to wipe the slate clean, Etch-a-Sketch it,” Brunette said. “It was good to have yesterday to kind of blow it off and wake up this morning, the sun came up and let’s play.”
Putting Thursday’s loss behind them is not going to be easy to do.
The Panthers did not have victory snatched away from them — it was a 1-1 game at the time of Colton Ross’ goal with 3.8 seconds remaining — but certainly were not expecting it to end right then and there.
Brunette talks a lot about learning lessons and teachable moments.
If the Panthers are in that same situation again, perhaps it will be handled differently.
The Panthers are familiar with the spot they are in right now as it happened to them last May as well.
The Lightning came to Sunrise and took the first two games of the series before Ryan Lomberg scored in overtime of Game 3 to lead Florida to a win in Tampa.
The Panthers don’t want to talk about what happened in Game 4 and, really, cannot look that far ahead anyway.
Getting one win on Sunday has to be the priority. Worry about Monday then.
And try and forget Thursday as well.
“We have a great opportunity,’’ Brunette said. “We win a game and everything changes. We played really well on the road all year and there is no reason why we can’t go there and play our best game.”
Brunette has said a number of times that he liked Florida’s game for 59:40 on Thursday with those final 20 seconds costing them in a big way.
Perhaps the biggest error came with defenseman MacKenzie Weegar chasing down Nikita Kucherov behind the net — with Gus Forsling already on his way — leaving a streaking Ross Colton wide open in front of the net.
Kucherov’s no-look pass from the end board went right to Ross and into the net.
“Those are hard and we have all made those kinds of mistakes at some point in our career,” Brunette said when asked if he was worried about Weegar not getting over that play. “It happened and it wasn’t just him; it was a five-man group. We had the puck behind our net with 20 seconds left and gave it away a couple of times for no real reason. So, it’s on everyone.
“Unfortunately, he probably feels the worst. The great thing about having a Game 3 is you can play your best game. And he will.”
Aaron Ekblad, Weegar’s defensive partner and close friend, reiterated the “short memory” mantra.
Both players have been burned by Kucherov in the series — Ekblad in Game 1 when Kucherov rolled right around him in open ice leading to a goal — and again, they cannot be thinking about that every time they step on the ice.
Of course they realize how dangerous Kucherov is. “He’s so damn good,” Ekblad said.
That’s something you don’t want to forget when he charges onto the ice.
“Short memory, you have to have that in this league,” Ekblad said. “It was the same thing for me in Game 1; move on from that play that obviously I did not like and try to contribute in other ways the following game. It’s never easy.
“The mental aspect of this game is a constant battle for every player. It’s extremely important for us to keep that positive vibe, have a short memory and go out and make a difference. That’s the kind of players we are. We can make a difference.”
And, Brunette has been through this numerous times in his career.
Perhaps he has some words of wisdom going into Sunday for his team.
In 2003, Brunette scored what is still considered the biggest goal in Minnesota Wild history when he beat the Avs in overtime to advance to the Stanley Cup Final.
“We were down a couple of series 3-1 and just kept banging on the door to open it and that’s kind of where we are at right now,” Brunette said. “This is very similar, actually; we played pretty good hockey with the margins and I lost the faceoff in those games. Twenty seconds when you can’t close out a game, I have lived some of those heartbreaks.
“So I know what it’s like to go through that. Each group is different and I believe our group is special and will find a way to win one game. In all these series, you win one and it changes things. People in sports say that all the time, Boston said it against the Heat the other day. You win one and go from there. We’re kind of in a great position because we can get some momentum here by playing the next night. Momentum is everything.”
NHL STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS
EASTERN CONFERENCE SEMIFINALS
PANTHERS V. LIGHTNING (TB leads 2-0)
- Game 3: Sunday, 1:30 p.m.
- Where: Amalie Arena, Tampa
- TV/Streaming: TNT
- Postgame: Bally Sports Florida
- Radio: WQAM 560 (Miami/Fort Lauderdale); WMEN 640 (Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3 (Florida Keys); SiriusXM
- Tickets: CLICK HERE
PANTHERS V. LIGHTNING
- Regular season series — Tied 2-2: Florida 4, @Lightning 1 (Oct. 19); @Lightning 3, Florida 2 OT (Nov. 13); @Florida 9, Lightning 3 (Dec 30); Tampa Bay 8, @Florida 4 (April 24).
- All-time regular season series: Panthers lead 73-49-18, 10 ties
- Playoff history: Second meeting; Tampa Bay d. Florida 4-2 in R1, 2021
- Round 1: Florida d. Washington 4-2; Tampa Bay d. Toronto 4-3
- Full schedule — Game 1: Tampa Bay 4, @Florida 1; Game 2: Tampa Bay 2, @Florida 1; Game 3: Florida at Tampa Bay, Sunday, 1:30 (TNT); Game 4: Florida at Tampa Bay, Monday, 7 (TNT); Game 5*: Tampa Bay at Florida, Wednesday, May 25 (Time, TV TBA); Game 6*: Florida at Tampa Bay Lightning, Friday, May 27 (Time, TV TBA); Game 7*: Tampa Bay at Florida, Sunday, May 29 (Time, TV TBA). (*) — If necessary.