The Florida Panthers could have let momentum slip away completely when the going got tough Tuesday night in Arizona.
But they did not.
A one-goal lead and a three-minute power play quickly turned into a level game when Alex Kerfoot stripped Oliver Ekman-Larsson of the puck and converted on a 2-on-1 rush chance on the other end 3:17 into the third period.
With the Panthers already missing Nick Cousins and Gus Forsling — Cousins was hurt after taking a hard check from behind from Jason Zucker and Forsling serving 17 minutes worth of penalties for dropping the gloves in retribution — it could have been an uphill battle.
Instead, they scored two quick goals, earned a 4-1 victory over the Coyotes, and extended their winning streak to five games.
The Panthers stuck to their identity to get it done, too.
“The other team was defending pretty hard and it was a tight game,” coach Paul Maurice said.
“I didn’t feel we were trying to break anything loose.”
They did not try to force stretch passes and rush chances to re-take the lead. They forechecked hard, drew another penalty and got a second chance on the power play.
And they took advantage of it, with Sam Reinhart deflecting home a Sasha Barkov shot 7:56 into the third.
“I liked our response after that,” Reinhart said.
”We didn’t try to break it open by any means. We stuck with it, we controlled the play, again, and on their end, we were able to get back on the power play and take advantage.”
They stuck to their M-O after that, and it paid off in spades quickly.
Less than a minute later, Matthew Tkachuk extended the lead to two goals, jamming in a rebound for his first goal since Dec. 10 to end a nine-game goal drought.
“Normally, the first few shifts after goals are important, so after we got the 2-1 lead, it’s nice to put the game out of reach a little bit,” Tkachuk told Bally’s Katie Engleson.
“Once you have a two-goal lead with [Sergei Bobrovsky] back there, you’re feeling confident in yourself.”
Bobrovsky did not even get much of a chance to help Florida seal the game.
The Panthers only gave up one more shot after Kerfoot’s tying goal 3:17 into the third period.
Forsling even returned and sank the empty netter fresh from the penalty box with 2:21 to go.
“Well deserved,” Reinhart said. “Certainly some karma there.”
Their shutdown effort was enough to get the job done, as it has been for most of their 21 regulation wins.
They have the most regulation wins out of any team in the Eastern Conference and have fewer than only the Vancouver Canucks (23) and Colorado Avalanche (22) out of the West.
“I think we’ve had enough success in the past that when we’ve had bad breaks or bad events, that they are confident in what they’re doing,” Maurice said.
“That confidence is so important, and it’s an important time of the year for every team. They’re really trying to cement their game before they get to the All-Star break.”
The 1-4-1 slide the Panthers went on before their five-game winning streak may have been critical to them reaching that goal.
During that stretch, they strayed away from their usual style of plays when they weren’t scoring as many goals and they saw how much it hurt them.
The five-game winning streak has been a result of that revelation.
“I think the style of game that we were playing, I think it was a benefit to us because we’ve been able to come out and right it pretty well,” Maurice said.
FLORIDA PANTHERS @ VEGAS GOLDEN KNIGHTS
- When: Thursday, 10 p.m.
- Where: T-Mobile Arena, Las Vegas
- TV/Streaming: Bally Sports Florida, ESPN+
- Radio: WQAM 560-AM, WPOW 96.5 FM2, WBZT 1230-AM (Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); SiriusXM
- Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932, NHL app
- Season Series (Panthers Lead 1-0) — At Florida: Panthers 4, Knights 2 (Dec. 23). At Vegas: Thursday.
- Last Regular Season: Even 1-1
- All-time Regular Season Series: Golden Knights lead 6-4-1
- Postseason History — 2023 Stanley Cup Final: Vegas d. Florida 4-1
- Up Next for the Florida Panthers: Saturday at Colorado, 4 p.m.