SUNRISE — Those who did not understand the Florida Panthers fascination with Artemi Panarin in 2019 before he ultimately signed with the New York Rangers got a glimpse of why the Panthers tried so hard — and were willing to shell out so much — to get him.
Panarin showed once more Wednesday night that he can take over a game.
Only this time, the Panthers took it back.
The Panthers were able to withstand the superb play of Panarin with more of a team effort, getting goals from four different players to snap a three-game slide with a 4-3 win at FLA Live Arena.
Panarin was terrific, no doubt.
But it felt like the Panthers really, really, needed to win this one.
Florida, after all, had lost its past three including two on home ice (and were outscored 12-3 in doing so).
The Panthers found themselves down 2-1 going into the third, but goals from MacKenzie Weegar, Carter Verhaeghe and Anthony Duclair helped carry them into the win column for the first time since Dec. 10 against Arizona.
Florida had not played since losing 4-1 to Los Angeles on Dec. 16 due to a Covid outbreak within the team and league.
The Panthers get back at it Thursday night when the Tampa Bay Lightning visit Sunrise.
Florida did not play an exceptional game Thursday and it looked like Panarin may carry the day for his Rangers.
Panarin gave New York the initial lead at 11:08 of the first when he broke into the Florida zone, snaked the puck past Aaron Ekblad with a deft stickmove and then slid a soft shot that seemed to befuddle his longtime pal and Florida free agent traveling partner Sergei Bobrovsky.
Bobrovsky, who did sign with the Panthers that summer of ‘19, definitely wished he had that scoring chance back.
Although Panarin’s work getting the puck toward the net was a thing of beauty, he all but whiffed on the shot.
Only it went under Bobrovsky’s glove and the Rangers had a 1-0 lead.
New York carried that lead into the second period with the Panthers putting up a few challenges to goalie Igor Sgesterkin — both teams certainly showed some rust after nearly two weeks off — but got the equalizing goal 5:09 into the second.
Anton Lundell circled into the slot and hopped on a fat rebound off a long shot from Gus Forsling and buried it, scoring his third goal of the month but his first in seven games.
The game remained tied until Panarin picked Radko Gudas of his wallet, watch and iPhone deep in the Florida zone.
Upon snaring the puck, Panarin saw Mika Zibanejad breaking down the right side, sent him a swift pass and he cherry picked an easy one as Bobrovsky was focused, solely, on his pal.
The Panthers eventually tied it up in the third period but not after misfiring on their second power play chance of the night.
Not long after the power play ended — the Panthers are now 3-for-32 with the man advantage this month — Weegar finally got his first goal of the season after teeing off on a Eetu Luostarinen delivery from the right circle.
Weegar, in the midst of his best season, had another fantastic game Wednesday and the goal was just the bonus.
The goal came off one of his four shots on goal as he ended up having 12 attempted shots. Weegar, who played the second-highest minutes despite being in Covid protocol earlier this week, also had four hits and three blocked shots.
With the score tied, the Panthers seemed to look like the Panthers of old as they added a couple more goals to salt the game away.
At 10:31 of the period, Carter Verhaeghe gave the Panthers their first lead in a really long time as he drove in and put one between the legs of Sgesterkin to make it 3-2.
With 5:20 left, Duclair got in on the act and gave Florida a two-goal lead.
The Rangers made it close in the final minute as Chris Krieder scored with 44.4 seconds remaining, but that was as close as it got.
GR’S THREE STARS OF THE GAME
1. MacKenzie Weegar, Florida
2. Artemi Panarin, New York
3. Carter Verhaeghe, Florida
FLORIDA PANTHERS ON DECK
TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING AT FLORIDA PANTHERS
- When: Thursday, 7 p.m.
- Where: FLA Live Arena, Sunrise
- Tickets: CLICK HERE
- TV/Streaming: Bally Sports Florida
- Radio: WQAM 560, SiriusXM
- Last season: Florida won 5-3-0
- This season — Florida leads 1-0-1: Florida 4, @Lightning 1, Oct. 19; @Lightning 3, Florida 2 (OT), Nov. 13
- All-time regular season series: Panthers lead 72-48-18, 10 ties