SUNRISE — The Florida Panthers dropped another important game at a time they desperately needed a win as their run of inconsistent play continues.
A slow first period doomed the Panthers as they could not crawl out of the hole and now enter Friday’s trade deadline with a 2-1 loss to a Nashville Predators team that sold off four players in the last week.
It was a bad loss that may well make or break their season.
”Obviously guys in this room care and we want to win every game,” Ryan Lomberg said.
”Especially this time of year when we’re pushing for a spot. I don’t know if it’s frustrated but we all want to win so we’re definitely upset with the result.”
Sure, they were missing Sasha Barkov and Sam Bennett for the third-straight game but it’s not an excuse a team as deep as Florida is on paper against a team that is missing star Filip Forsberg on top of an already depleted roster.
”I mean, sure, we’re missing those two guys, they’re your number one and number two center and it’s tough,” head coach Paul Maurice said.
”We did put up the shot attempts that we did and we got 25 shots blocked and we missed 23 times, so I don’t know if they are gonna get a shot through on one of those. But we did not have them in [their 4-1 win] in Tampa so they’ll get back whenever they get back.”
They have been fumbling away their postseason chances for the last nine games — dropping five of them in regulation while missing multiple opportunities to gain ground in the race.
And they have been doing it with or without Barkov and Bennett.
”It’s tough to put together wins in this league but we have the guys in the room to do it,” Lomberg said.
”It’s kind of that time of year where it’s almost too late so we gotta do it now. We can’t wait for tomorrow or for any other teams to help us out.”
Once the Panthers were able to get themselves back into the game, Kevin Lankinen’s 15 second-period saves stymied a dominant Florida attack that generated 12 high-danger chances to Nashville’s zero.
He did more of the same in the third period, finishing the game with 30 saves and holding the Panthers off the board.
They mustered up a total of 81 shot attempts and 40 scoring chances but could not capitalize with 23 of those attempts missing the net completely.
Sergei Bobrovsky put up a valiant effort, making 20 saves in his own right but Florida’s offense did not help him out.
Roman Josi put on a dominating display in the first period to put Nashville on top in the first place, picking up assists on both goals.
He set up the face-off play for Matt Duchene’s goal seven seconds into a Predators power play, then caught the Panther defense slipping and took an open lane to the crease off of a no-look feed from Cody Glass to set up a John Leonard goal.
Luke Evangelista also picked up his first NHL point on the Duchene goal right after drawing a trip from Radko Gudas in his second NHL game.
Florida’s defense had no answers for him in the first period and could not come up with much of a response no matter how many chances they generated.
In a league where coaches have tended to pull goalies earlier in desperation situations, Maurice waited until after the two minute mark to even start gesturing Bobrovsky to the bench for the extra attacker.
He did not get to the bench until there was closer to 1:30 to go and his team could not establish much pressure once the extra man out there as the clock bled out.
”We should have gotten him out earlier,” Maurice said.
The Panthers now find themselves four points behind the New York Islanders for the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference.
As their playoff chances look more and more bleak, general manager Bill Zito will have to make the tough decision on whether or not to pull the plug on this push and recuperate assets for expiring contracts at the deadline that looms in less than 24 hours.
For now, the players in the room are focused on righting the ship with 19 games to go.
“I think this is the time where it gets difficult,” Brandon Montour said.
”You got bumps and bruises, we got guys out so guys have to step up. We are playing desperate hockey and we need to collect every point. In a few of these games we have teams that are lower in the standings beating us and that’s what’s hurting us.”
GOALS OF THE GAME
- Predators 1, Panthers 0 (13:40, 1st, PPG): Matt Duchene beat Sergei Bobrovsky with a wrist shot from the circle seven seconds into the Nashville power play.
- Predators 2, Panthers 0 (19:49, 2nd): John Leonard finished off a backhand feed from a falling Roman Josi with a backhander of his own.
- Predators 2, Panthers 1 (3:21, 2nd): Brandon Montour jumped up into the rush and blasted a one-timer from Ryan Lomberg past Kevin Lankinen.
COLBY’S 3 STARS OF THE NIGHT
1. Roman Josi, Nashville (two assists)
2. Kevin Lankinen, Nashville (win)
3. Luke Evangelista (first NHL point, drawn penalty)
FLORIDA PANTHERS ON DECK
FLORIDA PANTHERS AT PITTSBURGH PENGUINS
- When: Saturday, 6 p.m.
- Where: FLA Live Arena, Sunrise
- TV/Streaming: Bally Sports Florida; ESPN+
- Radio: WPOW 96.5-FM 2; WBZT 1230-AM (Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); SiriusXM
- Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932
- Season Series (Penguins lead 2-0): Pittsburgh 4, Panthers 2 (Dec. 15); Penguins 7, Panthers 6 OT (Jan. 24)
- Last season: Florida won 2-1
- All-time regular season series: Penguins lead 56-35-7, 4 ties
- Up Next for the Panthers: Tuesday vs. Vegas Golden Knights, 7 p.m.