SUNRISE — When you take under consideration players who were out because of Covid-19 protocols and others who have been either hurt or gotten sick in the past few weeks, the Florida Panthers were missing half their team Thursday night against the Los Angeles Kings.
Well, it showed.
The Panthers were missing six players alone from Tuesday night and seven total since Ryan Lomberg first hit the Covid list on Tuesday.
Toss in the likes of Sasha Barkov (upper body) and Gus Forsling (flu) and the Panthers were stretched to the limit against the Kings.
The Panthers only had 16 skaters in their lineup — two fewer than the league maximum.
And now they have lost three consecutive games as the visiting Kings made 41 saves from Jonathan Quick to head out of town with a 4-1 victory.
Florida made four recalls from its AHL team in Charlotte on Thursday after two more players were added to the five already on the Covid list which was announced Wednesday.
As great a story as the Charlotte players are — Cole Schwindt was rewarded with his NHL debut as he leads the Checkers in goals — they don’t replace the likes of Aaron Ekblad, Sam Bennett or Radko Gudas.
At least that story got off to a fantastic start.
Matt Kiersted, the kid who signed with the Panthers as a free agent out of North Dakota last spring, was up on Florida’s top defensive pairing Thursday and got his first NHL goal off a sweet feed from Jonathan Huberdeau and a 1-0 lead.
Welcome back to the Show, Matt!
The fun, certainly, did not last.
Less than three minutes later, defenseman Olli Maata tied the score with his first goal in 58 games with the Kings.
In the second period, Anze Kopitar got loose on a stretch pass form Sean Durzi, walked in on Sergei Bobrovsky as he slid by Kiersted and threaded a backhander top shelf.
The Kings added to their lead later in the second when Dustin Brown got past MacKenzie Weegar and Kiersted (it looked like the rookie took out his teammate) and scored.
With the Panthers so shorthanded, Andrew Brunette was certainly leaning on his guys.
Through the opening 40, Weegar — for instance — played 22:15. Jonathan Huberdeau went 16:09.
A lot of credit to why Florida struggled to score Thursday goes to Quick, who made a number of big stops especially in the second when the Panthers started to possess the puck a little more and put on some offensive pressure.
According to NaturalStatTrick.Com, Florida was outshooting the Kings (30-24) and had 10 more scoring chances (27-17) — not to mention more high-danger chances in the first two periods.
Yet the Panthers were down a pair of goals.
Being down two goals — while missing two skaters and replacing a ton of talent with rookies who simply ain’t there yet — is not a recipe for success in the old comeback department.
And it was not for Florida this night.
Bobrovsky did not have his best game, either, with the Kings making it 4-1 at 7:02 of the third on Arthur Kaliyev’s wrist shot despite Florida carrying the play throughout the period.
The Panthers needed Bobrovsky to give them the kind of game he brought earlier in the second and Thursday night, well, he did not.
Usually a soft goal or two can be covered up especially with the Panthers buzzing on that high octane offense of theirs. Thursday was not that night although Florida did have its chances.
But with Quick playing like the Quick of old, they needed every save they could get.
Maybe that comes Saturday.
GR’S THREE STARS OF THE GAME
1. Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles
2. Anze Kopitar Los Angeles
3. Matt Kiersted, Florida
FLORIDA PANTHERS ON DECK
Florida Panthers at Minnesota Wild
- WHEN: Saturday, 2 p.m.
- WHERE: Xcel Center, St. Paul
- TV/STREAMING: Bally Sports Florida
- RADIO: WQAM 560
- Last season: Did not play
- This season: @Florida 5, Minnesota 4 (Nov. 20)