During a break in the first period on Tuesday night, Florida Panthers coach Paul Maurice was asked by ESPN’s Emily Kaplan about his team’s start.
”Now we’re starting to look the way we’re supposed to look,’’ Maurice said.
For a while there, the Panthers definitely looked like the team everyone around South Florida had become accustomed to.
Then along came the third period and the Panthers fans are starting to get used to showed up.
Florida held a three-goal lead going into the third but watched the Avalanche skate circles around them and tie the score with 7:53 remaining.
But Matthew Tkachuk saved the day for the Panthers as his second goal came with 3:30 left on the clock and led Florida to a 5-4 win.
”It wasn’t like we were sitting back, but we gave up too much to the Stanley Cup champs,” Tkachuk told Kaplan following the game. “I don’t know, we’ve had a few of those. … I’m just glad it didn’t go to overtime because this game was long and stressful enough.’’
For the first 40 minutes, it was a game the Panthers looked good and confident.
For much of the final 20, however, Florida looked like a team that could not handle the pressure of the moment.
Colorado got its first of the third from Mikko Rantanen to make it 4-2 at 6:29 of the period. Then, just 20 seconds later, Nathan MacKinnon made it a one-goal game.
Artturi Lehkonen appeared to tie the score at 4 but Evan Rodrigues was determined to be offside after a Maurice challenge and the Panthers could take a breath.
But not for long.
With 7:53 left, J.T. Compher officially tied the score.
It looked like the Panthers were going to completely collapse in the Rockies.
“In the third, we sat back a couple of times but thought we played good for the most part,” Tkachuk said. “Then a couple of theirs went in and this place got really loud. And when this place gets loud, they get a lot of momentum. Crazy thing in this building and they took full advantage of that.”
Florida got a power play — its second of the night — and Tkachuk cashed in with 10 seconds left on it when he jammed at a puck at the mouth of the goal with it bouncing around and hitting both Rodrigues and Cale Makar before going past Alexandar Georgiev for what turned out to be the game-winner.
And, perhaps more than that.
The Panthers have been looking for a signature win perhaps since dominating Boston at home all the way back on Nov. 23.
That seems like last season, really.
Florida has been marred by injury and illness, sure, but those were December’s problems.
The Panthers are now, for the most part, healthy yet have not been able to string much of anything together.
Now, they head to Vegas with wins in three of their past four.
Tkachuk hopes this team has turned a corner and, we shall see about that.
“I think this game portrays how our season has gone,” he said. “We have not been getting that goal that gets us a win or being able to stop the bleeding. Hopefully this win, the way it happened, gives us more confidence and the second half is going to be different for us.”
The night certainly looked great for the Panthers after 20.
Florida scored three goals in the first period and led 4-1 after Tkachuk scored late in the second.
Sergei Bobrovsky kept the Panthers in this one early until they started to get their legs in the high altitude with Maurice’s decision to switch up his top line paying immediate dividends.
Sasha Barkov got the night going in the right direction for the Panthers of a strong play by Anton Lundell behind the net and the Panthers were off and running.
Brandon Montour made it 2-0 a few minutes later with Sam Bennett getting his second goal this month with a power play tally at 13:47 of the period.
It would have been a perfect first for the Panthers but Andrew Cogliano tipped in a shot with 53.8 seconds remaining.
”It felt good,” Bennett said. “I think we did all the right things, came out flying and Bob made a bunch of big saves for us. We did everything right. That’s as good a start to a game as we could have.”
Florida controlled play in the second and had one scoring chance after another but took Tkachuk’s goal with 51.8 seconds remaining and ran into the room feeling pretty good about themselves.
The feeling would not last.
Still, the Panthers did survive and got two big points to start this four-game trip 2-1-0. Vegas, again, is up next and that is a place the Panthers have never won.
Perhaps at the slots or poker tables, but not on the ice.
But they got a win in Colorado and can enjoy their day off in Vegas.
“We have had a whole bunch of games this season where I don’t think there was a just result,” Maurice said.
“I’m happy for them. They battled for it.’’
PANTHERS ON DECK
FLORIDA PANTHERS AT VEGAS GOLDEN KNIGHTS
- When: Thursday, 10 p.m.
- Where: T-Mobile Arena, Las Vegas
- 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
- Last season: Split 1-1
- All-time regular season series: Vegas leads 5-2-1
- Up Next for the Panthers: Saturday vs. Vancouver, 7 p.m.