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Florida Panthers Snap Out of Skid, Run Past Senators

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Dmitry Kulikov, center, is congratulated for his first period goal by Josh Mahura, Eetu Luostarinen and Anton Lundell. // Photo courtesy @FlaPanthers

The Florida Panthers finally looked like their old selves in an 6-0 walloping of the Ottawa Senators on Thursday night.

After scoring two goals in the first 97 seconds of the game, Florida smacked Ottawa to snap a skid of eight losses in their previous 10 games.

The Panthers were held to two or fewer goals three times during that stretch.

Florida matched that in the first 97 seconds — the fastest two goals to start a game in franchise history.

“We just needed a good game after the last few,” Matthew Tkachuk told Bally Sports Florida.

“It was nice to get a really good start and that kind of just helped us dominate the whole game.”

The Panthers lost a couple of key players to injury and illness throughout that block of games  — including Aaron Ekblad and Carter Verhaeghe, who are both out for the rest of the regular season — but they came out with a hard edge on Thursday night.

“I liked that they were able to get their energy up for the game,” coach Paul Maurice said. “We have 10 games in 17 days, this is our ninth in that set and we’ve got some guys sick.

Steve Lorentz, in the game tonight, played through intermittent vomiting, so we’ve had a bunch of it go through our team and we’ve rallied together after our last two losses and it was good.”

On Thursday, the Panthers did not look like the struggling team that they have been for the past few weeks: they looked like their dominant selves.

“We have some guys away, but we were able to play the same way,” Anton Lundell said. “That’s playoffs, you never know who is going to be out or in, so we’re just trying to do what we can and we’re trying to fight for a win every night.”

The Panthers jumped on the Senators by playing their style of hockey.

Nick Cousins got the party started 1:02 into the game after Tkachuk won a puck battle in the corner and fed him in the slot.

Dmitry Kulikov then put the Panthers ahead 35 seconds later with a blast from the point, which marked his first goal in a Panthers uniform since an empty-netter in Game 1 of the 2016 playoffs.

Florida’s penalty kill did a lot of the heavy lifting to close out the first period, killing off each of the four penalties they took while allowing only nine shots and four high-danger scoring chances in 7:08 on the kill.

Lundell then put the Panthers ahead by three with some wide-angle wizardry.

The 22-year-old took a shot from well below the goal line, banked it off of Jonas Korpisalo’s back and into the net 2:35 into the second period for his 11th goal of the year.

It was from nealry the same spot he scored the overtime winner against Ottawa on Feb. 20.

Cousins’ face afterward said it all. It will most certainly be played on SportsCenter.

“It was pretty funny, same team as last time,” Lundell said. “I like the shot. Sometimes you see that you have a little opening and you have some time and confidence to make that play. I just had a feeling and went after it.”

Sam Bennett scored with a goal off the rush less than two minutes later and the Senators opted to swap out Korpisalo for Anton Forsberg.

That did not stop the Florida onslaught, though.

Sam Reinhart scored his 53rd goal of the year with 2:04 to go in the second period off of a one-timer via a feed through traffic by Sasha Barkov.

Tkachuk got a goal of his own on the power play 3:54 into the third after picking up primary assists on Cousins’ and Bennett’s goals.

Florida’s penalty kill finished 6-for-6, giving up just one goal and no high-danger chances on Ottawa’s last two power play tries.

“I liked the way we played in the defensive zone,” Maurice said. “They have a really active blue line and we were blocking shots at 4-0, 5-0 and 6-0.

“I liked that a lot, because the puck doesn’t hurt less at 5-0.”

Sergei Bobrovsky was solid when the Panthers needed him to be, too, stopping 30 shots and three high-danger shots.

A win on Thursday does wonders for the Panthers with a big test against the Boston Bruins coming on Saturday.

“We know what’s around the corner here and we know if we play our best hockey, we have a serious chance,” Tkachuk said.

“I think this has been looked at as our biggest game of the season, so we’ve been looking forward to this one for a long time to go back and play in Boston. It’s going to be a hostile environment and we’re looking forward to it.”

Florida is currently four points behind Boston for the top spot in the Atlantic Division.

Even after their struggles, a division title is still possible for the Panthers.

“It’s all coming down [to the wire,]” Lundell said. “We are going to play against teams we are most likely going to play in the playoffs, so getting the confidence back is huge.

“We have had a tougher schedule and tougher games, but sometimes you lose, sometimes you win. It’s all about how you come to the next game and that’s how we have to go from here forward.”

For the most in-depth coverage of the Florida Panthers:

ON DECK

FLORIDA PANTHERS @ BOSTON BRUINS

  • When: Saturday, 3 p.m.
  • Where: TD Garden, Boston
  • TV/Streaming: ABC/ESPN+
  • Radio: WPOW 96.5-FM2; 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 App
  • Last Season — Regular Season: Tied 2-2; Playoffs: Florida won 4-3 (first-round)
  • This season (Bruins Lead 3-0) — At Boston: Bruins 3, Panthers 2 OT (Oct.30); Saturday. At Florida: Bruins 3, Panthers 1 (Nov. 22); Bruins 4, Panthers 3 (March 26).
  • All-time Regular Season Series: Boston leads 63-37-7, 6 ties
  • All-time Postseason Series: Florida leads 2-0 (1996, 2023)
  • Up Next for the Panthers: Tuesday vs. Ottawa, 7 p.m.

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