The Florida Panthers struggled on special teams during their opening-round series against the Bruins but it looked like their troubles were behind them after a solid showing against Toronto.
Then came Game 1 against Carolina.
While Florida’s problems did not cost them a game, it did raise some concern. Carolina, after all, went 2-for-3 with the advantage during regulation and stopped the Panthers’ X chances.
Neither team scored on a combined three power plays in four overtime periods.
Saturday night in Game 2, things appeared headed down that same hill — especially when it came to Florida’s power play.
Carolina’s aggressive kill has been a problem for the Panthers over the past few seasons and has been in the opening two games of this series.
The Hurricanes, after all, came into the series with a 90 percent success rate in the playoffs and were shutting the Panthers down in the opening two games.
Until overtime on Saturday night.
Just 1:39 into overtime, Carolina’s Jesperi Kotkaniemi hooked Josh Mahura.
Sasha Barkov beat Jordan Staal on the ensuing faceoff and the Hurricanes ended up getting tangled up in the corner. Barkov got the puck and slid it to Sam Bennett.
Sam Reinhart, in front of the net, moved over allowing Matthew Tkachuk to sweep in and Bennett went to Reinhart.
Reinhart sent a quick pass to Tkachuk charging the net for the game-winning goal a lot earlier in overtime than Game 1.
“We’re going to play the game the right way, grind it out as long as it has to go,” Bennett said. “We were ready to go the distance if we had to again, but luckily we got it done early.”
The Panthers are now 1-for-6 on the power play in this series — but their one goal was a big one.
And it came after Florida not only did not get a shot off on its first power play chance of Game 2, but watched the Hurricanes get 6 shorthanded shots.
“It was a build because our first one was pretty rough,” coach Paul Maurice said. “That looked exactly like the three prior. And the next one was a little better. And the last one was due to the build. …
“We knew, coming into the series, we would have a whole lot of power plays which would look terrible. What you can’t have is players lose confidence and change the way they think. … I’m glad the players still have their confidence.”
The same goes for the penalty kill.
Florida was roasted by the Bruins in the opening round as Boston went 11-for-27 with the man advantage in the series — and scored 7 of those goals in the final three games of which the Panthers won.
In the Toronto series, Florida held the Maple Leafs’ powerful forward group to just 2-of-11.
Thursday, the Hurricanes scored on their first two chances. They are 0-for-6 since, including a big kill in the third period Saturday in which Marc Staal went down and blocked a big shot in front of Sergei Bobrovsky.
“The PK was great, they were very aggressive, had the sticks out,” Bobrovsky said. “Those little things you don’t always see or appreciate, I appreciate them. And I see them.”
Said Maurice: “We aren’t a naturally-gifted penalty killing team but we do have smart players and they work hard at it. In fairness, Sergei is the best penalty killer we have and he has been great. We have had some important kills in overtime and during the game and confidence is a big thing. It’s no different in the power play than it is the penalty kill.’’
Special teams plays a huge role in the postseason with games — and series — being turned on a dime depending on how things are played up or down a man.
The Panthers have survived the worst of times and have thrived in the best of them.
FLORIDA PANTHERS ON DECK
STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS
EASTERN CONFERENCE FINALS
CAROLINA HURRICANES (MET1) AT PANTHERS (WC2)
GAME 3 (Panthers Lead 2-0)
- When: Monday, 8 p.m.
- Where: FLA Live Arena, Sunrise
- TV: TNT
- Radio: WQAM 560-AM, WPOW 95.6 FM2, WBZT 1230-AM (Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); SiriusXM
- Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932
- Series Schedule — Game 1: Florida 3, @Carolina 2; Game 2: Florida 2, @Carolina 1 (OT); Game 3: Monday at Florida, 8 (TNT); Game 4: Wednesday at Florida, 8 (TNT); Game 5*: Friday at Carolina, 8 (TNT); Game 6*: Sunday, May 28 at Florida, 8 (TNT); Game 7*: Tuesday, May 30 at Carolina, 8 (TNT). *If Necessary
- Season Series: (Carolina won 2-1): @Florida 3, Carolina 0 (Nov.9);@Carolina 4, Florida 0 (Dec. 30); Carolina 6, @Florida 4 (April 13)
- All-Time Regular Season Series: Carolina/Hartford leads 71-46-10, 11 ties
- Postseason History: First Meeting
- How They Got Here — Carolina: d. New York Islanders in 6; d. New Jersey Devils in 5. Florida: d. Boston Bruins in 7; d. Toronto Maple Leafs in 5.