The Florida Panthers found themselves some late heroics — thanks to a pair of third-period goals from Aaron Ekblad — as they rallied to win their season-opener 5-4 in overtime Thursday against the visiting Pittsburgh Penguins.
Florida looked like it was about to be humbled in its opener down 4-2 in the third.
But Ekblad came through with a wild goal into a very crowded net then shoveled a backhander through to help force overtime.
Once there, Carter Verhaeghe won it.
It looked like the Penguins were going to be headed home after pulling off an impressive and improbable Sunshine Sweep (minus Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin) after opening with a 6-2 win in Tampa on Tuesday.
Only the Panthers didn’t go down easy.
Things were looking pretty good for the Panthers through the first period and change although one had to wonder if the team’s missed opportunities would come back and bite them.
They almost did.
Florida led 2-0 just over four minutes into the second period, but the good times would quickly come to an end.
The Panthers found themselves in not one but two 5-on-3 disadvantages midway through the second period and also lost top defenseman MacKenzie Weegar for four minutes on a roughing call.
It was 2-0 before the penalty parade started — and the two teams went into the room tied at 2 as the period came to a close.
Pittsburgh went 2-for-5 on power play chances in the second period as it outshot Florida 17-10.
Florida took a 1-0 lead 6:44 into the game when Verhaeghe threw a long shot up from the wall through the traffic and hit paydirt.
The shot appeared to be deflected in by Sasha Barkov but, alas, the fluky-looking shot was all Verhaeghe.
In the second, Anthony Duclair made it 2-0 on an even goofier looking goal. Duclair charged in on goalie Casey DeSmith and threw a shot that DeSmith made. At least initially.
The rebound went up into the air, hit defenseman Mark Friedman and bounded back out of DeSmith’s reach and into the back of the net.
Florida’s two-goal lead did not last.
Upon taking the 2-0 lead, Florida was slapped with 10 penalty minutes.
Pittsburgh took advantage of one midway through the second with Weegar serving his four-minute infraction with Danton Heinen whipping a shot through from the right circle.
The Panthers weren’t the only team with odd goals on Thursday as the Pens tied the score with 1:02 left in the period after a Jeff Carter shot went off of Ekblad and through.
It will officially go down as Carter’s 400th career goal.
Pittsburgh took its first lead of the night at 8:01 of the third when Jake Guentzel’s shot from behind the net hit Weegar and went past Bobrovsky.
Moments later, Evan Rodrigues scored as players piled up in the net.
Florida complained but with 6:31 left, Ekblad took advantage of a similar situation.
With every player save for Bobrovsky — and Ekblad — piled into the Pittsburgh net, the puck squirted free. Ekblad wisely retrieved the puck and found a spot to put it.
The dogpile goal counted and the Panthers had life down 4-3.
Ekblad really gave Florida a new shot at a couple points with 4:53 left when he took a Owen Tippett pass, strode through the slot and shoveled a backhanded shot past DeSmith.
Bobrovsky ended up making 43 saves — including a game-saver in overtime.
Despite the scoresheet, Bobrovsky was very good on Thursday night with three of the four goals given up either coming off teammates or when he was on the ice (after making the first three stops).
GR’S THREE STARS OF THE GAME
1. Aaron Ekblad, Florida
2. Carter Verhaeghe, Florida
3. Jeff Carter, Pittsburgh
FLORIDA PANTHERS ON DECK
NEW YORK ISLANDERS AT FLORIDA PANTHERS
- When: Saturday, 6 p.m.
- Where: FLA Live Arena, Sunrise
- Tickets: CLICK HERE
- TV/Streaming: Bally Sports Florida
- Radio: 560-AM
- 2021 regular season series: Did not play