SUNRISE — The Florida Panthers kept things simple on Saturday night and by winning the special teams battle, they beat the Vancouver Canucks.
Florida rode a 2-for-3 power play and a 4-for-5 penalty kill to a 4-3 victory over the Canucks in a game that was closer than it probably should have been.
The Panthers struggled on the penalty kill in particular recently, having the eighth-worst efficiency shorthanded at 71.4 percent from Dec. 1 until the start of the four-game road trip they ended on Thursday.
They began righting the ship on that trip — going 9-for-11 overall — and they continued to do so on Saturday.
“What has gone into [our success] has been competitiveness and learning and implementing a new system this year,” Aaron Ekblad said.
”There were growing pains and all of us had to learn a new way of playing and I think our coaches have done a good job of preparing us. They give us all the tools and now it’s starting to click because of that chemistry between partners.”
Florida’s penalty killers are starting to become more aggressive in the passing lanes and it has led to success as of late.
”We are just way more aggressive on entry,” Panthers coach Paul Maurice said.
”We weren’t getting beat on the penalty kill from a seam, bar down wide open, we were getting beat on knucklers to the net — angle shots that were in traffic that we couldn’t get to.
”It was a volume issue. We are going to give up [a slap shot from the point] every once in a while like every power play does, but we can’t get into bog of pucks. Not necessarily dangerous shots but the result of the shot became a problem.”
For a Panthers team that has been effective 5-on-5 outside of its special teams struggles, this is a good sign.
They are going to need to keep it going.
Florida starts a stretch where they will play five of their next six games on the road and face off against four teams they are jockeying for playoff position with in the Eastern Conference.
For a team that now sits four points out of the East’s last wildcard spot with less than half the season left, it’s now or never.
They are going to have to start a run soon and it has to start in Buffalo on Monday afternoon.
THE GOALS OF THE GAME
- Canucks 1, Panthers 0 (1:35, 1st): Jack Studnicka sent a floater past Sergei Bobrovsky off of a Nick Cousins turnover.
- Panthers 1, Canucks 1 (8:58, 1st): Ryan Lomberg tapped in a Givani Smith rebound.
- Canucks 2, Panthers 1 (0:39, 2nd): Tyler Myers sent a shot from the blue line past an unsuspecting Bobrovsky.
- Panthers 2, Canucks 2 (1:46, 2nd): Eric Staal deflected a Josh Mahura shot past Spencer Martin.
- Panthers 3, Canucks 2 (3:06, 2nd, PPG): Aaron Ekblad blasted a slap shot past Martin off of a pass from Brandon Montour.
- Panthers 4, Canucks 2 (9:51, 2nd, PPG): Sasha Barkov put home a beautiful no-look feed from Sam Reinhart on the power play.
- Panthers 4, Canucks 3 (10:02, 3rd, PPG): Elias Pettersson beat Bobrovsky with a slap shot from the blue line on the power play.
COLBY’S THREE STARS OF THE GAME
1. Aaron Ekblad, Florida (goal, assist)
2. Elias Pettersson, Vancouver (goal, assist)
3. Eric Staal, Florida (goal)
PANTHERS ON DECK
FLORIDA PANTHERS AT BUFFALO SABRES
- When: Monday, 1 p.m.
- Where: KeyBank Arena, Buffalo
- 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
- Season Series (Florida leads 1-0): Panthers 4, Sabres 3 (Oct. 15)
- Last season: Florida won 3-0
- All-time regular season series: Buffalo leads 52-47-5, 4 ties
- Up Next for the Panthers: Tuesday at Toronto, 7 p.m.