It may only be the first of March, but after the past couple of days, who is not excited about the potential for a first round playoff series between the Panthers and Carolina Hurricanes?
Based on the past couple of games, it appears they already don’t like each other a whole lot.
Heck, just having Patric Hornqvist go against the Hurricanes in a best-of-7 series may even get a few of these games on national, prime-time television.
OK, I am reaching with that one.
But it does look like a series between these two would be fun, it would be intriguing and — it is more than likely going to happen.
With the new divisional playoff format, the first-place (No. 1 seed) team in each division will open against the fourth-place/No. 4; the second place team will open against the third place team.
Right now, it looks like Florida and Carolina could very well the second and third-place teams in the division behind Tampa Bay.
Sure, the Panthers technically took over first place in the Central with the point taken from Monday’s 3-2 overtime loss to the Hurricanes.
And maybe Florida ends up winning the Central. Perhaps Carolina does.
Only it just feels like this is a first-round series that feels right. So far, Carolina has won two of the first three meetings but all three have gone to extra time.
Game 4 is Sunday in Raleigh.
“I think we’re going to see close games like that all season long,” said Noel Acciari, who came back Monday after being on the IR the past two weeks.
“We’re both battling four a top-four spot. We just have to stick with it. They’re up 2-1 in the series but we get to see them in not too long. I think it’s going to be like this from here on out.
“You play the same time eight times in a season, you’re going to start some stuff out there. … They’re not going to forget. I like it. It makes it feel like playoff-esqe hockey.”
The fun a Carolina-Florida series brings could just be in what happens with Hornqvist.
He was not happy on Monday night.
Not only did Hornqvist get slapped with two separate roughing calls, but he also had a power play goal taken away from him on an official’s error.
Joel Quenneville would not get into what the officials told him about the miscue other than it was an early whistle.
Did they apologize?
“I don’t think that’s a time for an apology,” Quenneville said with a chuckle.
First period highlights
There was not a whole lot going on in the first half of the period — but the second half made up for that.
Hornqvist took his first roughing penalty at 12:23 with the Canes scoring on a Brett Pesce shot from the right circle a minute later.
At 15:43, the Panthers got their power play group on the ice and, just as Hornqvist was about to put the puck into the net, an official blew the play dead — either thinking Nedeljkovic had it covered up.
He did not.
Hornqvist was already a little upset about the (first) roughing penalty and this did not improve his mood.
It would get worse.
Anyway, Juho Lammikko was denied by Nedeljkovic just before the period buzzer sounded.
Shots were tied at 11 for the period but Carolina was the better team in this period, taking seven more shot attempts than the Panthers.
Second period highlights
Just over five minutes into the frame, Hornqvist was sent to the box again — hey, roughing! — and wasn’t in complete agreement with the call.
Play was stopped as he came out of the box after Florida killed it off and Hornqvist went straight to the officials to have a chat.
He did not seem pleased with their explanations.
A few minutes later, Noel Acciari was thrown in the box for a roughing after checking a Carolina forward; Hornqvist was first to the official to have a debate.
In the waning seconds of that Carolina power play, Sasha Barkov broke loose and took off, being pulled down by Jesper Fast in the process.
Florida did not do anything with this power play, nor the one it had later in the period and Carolina took its 1-0 lead into the third.
Third period/OT highlights
Florida really got things cooking in the third and ended up outscoring Carolina 2-1 in the period as they outshot the Canes 23-9 in the period.
The Panthers tied the score at 4:30 of the period on a goal from Frank Vatrano as he followed up a loose puck off a Barkov shot.
Later in the period, Eetu Luostarinen — one of four players to come over from Carolina in the Vincent Trocheck deal — gave the Panthers their first lead with 3:09 left.
Although it looked like the Panthers might escape with another one-goal win and go 7-0 following a loss, Trocheck had other plans and tied it with his 11th goal of the year — and third against the Panthers in as many games.
In overtime, Martin Necas won it with 3:01 remaining after scoring off a nice feed from Sebastian Aho.
Driedger ended with 28 saves; Nedeljkovic stopped 44.
“I liked the way we were competing,’’ Quenneville said.
”Lot of positives coming out of the game even though we were trailing for a big part of it, it didn’t affect how we were competing, how we were playing.”
Up Next: Florida Panthers at Nashville Predators
When: Thursday, 8 p.m.
Where: Bridgestone Arena, NashVegas