SUNRISE — Kevin Stenlund laid it all out on the line in his first home game with the Florida Panthers.
In the dying seconds of Florida’s 3-1 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday, Stenlund blocked a shot with his face which ultimately helped the Panthers clear the puck and seal the victory in their home opener.
It left him with a shiner just below his eye — one that was still bleeding when he was talking to the media after the game.
“I haven’t seen it,” Stenlund said. “But I hope it looks good.”
Stenlund certainly made a good first impression to Florida’s home crowd as he scored the game’s first goal and played big minutes on the penalty kill.
“He has gotten more comfortable every day,” coach Paul Maurice said. “He’s got a very specific set of skills. He can shoot the puck a ton, but he’s also the smart kind of veteran penalty-killer.”
That added comfort built by strong performances in the preseason has led to confidence for Stenlund on both sides of the ice.
And it showed when he uncorked a wrist shot from the top of the face-off circle to put the Panthers up 1-0 late in the first period.
“I saw there was traffic on net and I decided to shoot it,” Stenlund said.
“I’m just trying to work on my game and build every day. I want to get more offense as it goes on and performances like today are what I want.”
Oliver Ekman-Larsson added to the lead with 6.9 seconds to go to put the Panthers up 2 heading into the intermission.
The Maple Leafs got back into the game and picked up the tempo in the second period.
Florida found itself on the penalty kill four times and a star-studded Toronto power play made them pay.
Mitch Marner got the Maple Leafs on the board with 8:08 to go in the second period, picking up a John Tavares rebound and putting it past Sergei Bobrovsky.
Aside from that, Stenlund and the rest of the penalty killers helped the Panthers hold their lead heading into the third period.
And his line came out and helped Florida regain momentum as time winded down.
“He and [Ryan] Lomberg had some important shifts for us in the third period,” Maurice said.
”We were good in the first. The second period with all of the power plays and some of the transition, the game got bogged down and I don’t think we were very good. To be able to come out of that and be good enough again in the third is hard to do. And I thought that line was the driver of it.”
The Panthers needed another big shift out of Stenlund when Sasha Barkov took a rare tripping penalty with 1:09 to go in the game.
Toronto had a 6-on-4 man advantage with the net empty and sent a barrage of shots toward Bobrovsky.
Florida’s penalty killers managed to get in front of them, including the one that struck Stenlund in the face en route to a successful clearing attempt.
“That is the type of team we want to be,” Stenlund said. “We want to leave it all out there.”
Sam Reinhart found himself with a wide-open net in front of him after Dmitry Kulikov snuffed out a subsequent Maple Leafs zone entry and found Sam Reinhart, who added an empty-net goal with 0.2 seconds to go.
Florida moves to 2-2-0 on the season, winning its last two games since dropping the first two of the season.
As time goes on, Stenlund is growing more and more comfortable with the Panthers and is becoming a more important piece to the puzzle.
“It’s still new to me, but I think I’m fitting in pretty well,” said Stenlund, who signed a one-year, $1 million contract with Florida during the offseason.
“I am just trying to be smarter, think the game and work on the plays I have to make.”
PANTHERS ON DECK
VANCOUVER CANUCKS @ FLORIDA PANTHERS
- When: Saturday, 7 p.m.
- Where: Amerant Bank Arena, Sunrise
- TV/Streaming: Bally Sports Florida; 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: Florida won 2-0
- This Season: @ Florida, Saturday; @ Vancouver, Dec. 14.
- All-time Regular Season Series: Vancouver leads 18-13-4, 6 ties
- Up Next for the Panthers: Tuesday vs. San Jose, 7:45 p.m.