When the New Jersey Devils started their push for a third-period comeback, the Florida Panthers knew they could count on Sergei Bobrovsky.
Despite a three-goal third from the Devils, Bobrovsky led the Panthers to a 4-3 victory, stopping 31 of 34 shots in Florida’s first win of the season.
After two periods of structured play in front of him, he had his work cut out for him in the final one as the Devils cut loose.
The Panthers took three penalties and allowed 14 shots, 11 high-danger chances and 21 scoring chances in the third period.
Bobrovsky answered the call for the Panthers with 11 saves.
“I thought we did a nice job in front of him,” coach Paul Maurice said of the opening two periods, one in which the Panthers built to a 3-0 lead.
“He made two big saves shorthanded in the second period and that was his first dangerous piece of work.
“And then when it’s on like that? That’s why he’s ‘The Bob’.”
Florida’s only lead of the season heading into Monday night’s game lasted just 10 seconds.
They grabbed their second lead quickly into Game 3 and did not give this one up — regardless of how hard New Jersey pushed.
Sam Reinhart opened the scoring 3:54 into the game, deflecting an Evan Rodrigues shot past Vitek Vanecek.
Carter Verhaeghe then extended the lead by bursting past the Devils defense off of a stretch pass by Matthew Tkachuk and beating Vanecek top shelf with 13:12 to go in the second period.
Tkachuk went back to work with another big pass, setting up Niko Mikkola for his first goal as a Panther with a cross-ice dish through traffic 11:18 into the second period.
The tap-in goal was Mikkola’s sixth goal in 173 career games.
“That was a big pass from him,” the 6-foot-5 defenseman said. “I almost missed it but he made it easy for me.”
Reinhart picked up his second goal of the game nearly the same way he did his first.
Just 59 seconds into the third period, Reinhart got to the front of the net and deflected an Oliver Ekman-Larsson shot past Vanecek for a power play goal.
Reinhart, who led the Panthers in power play goals in each of the last two seasons, has both of Florida’s power play goals and leads them in goals with three thus far this season.
“I have always said that he is one of the smartest players in the league,” captain Sasha Barkov said.
“He has that stick that suits him well in front of the net. He can do whatever he wants with that. He touches pucks, makes plays and overall, he is just one of the smartest players.”
That was also the moment the Devils decided to put things in overdrive.
With a deep roster filled with young stars, New Jersey took advantage of its speed with quick stretch passes and rush chances.
What followed was a slew of scoring chances and three stick infractions that they took full advantage of.
”They are in the Top 3 teams in the NHL that can mount a comeback on skill,” Maurice said.
“Their risk profile completely changes, so they are making plays that if they pay off, they get a huge payoff and if they don’t, they don’t care.
“They are hard to handle, especially when you are in the penalty box.”
The Devils got their first power play of the third period after Niko Mikkola tripped Jack Hughes 1:50 in and they took full advantage.
After barraging the Panthers with shots, Erik Haula finally got his stick on one with 15 seconds to go in the man-advantage to put New Jersey on the board.
Michael McCleod got the Devils a second off of a rebound when they had an extra attacker out with a delayed penalty call on Florida 8:51 into the third.
A costly tripping penalty by Nick Cousins gave New Jersey a chance to bring themselves back within a goal with the net empty.
And they did just that.
Jesper Bratt ripped a wrist shot from the top of the face-off circle past Bobrovsky to make it a 4-3 game with 2:33 to go.
Despite a barrage of Devils chances in the final minutes, Bobrovsky held on and led the Panthers to their first win of the season.
It will give them some much-needed momentum going into their home opener against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday night.
“It’s way better going home,” Maurice said. “Win your last game, you’re excited about the next one… Yeah, it’s way better.”
PANTHERS ON DECK
TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS @ FLORIDA PANTHERS
- When: Thursday, 7 p.m.
- Where: Amerant Bank Arena, Sunrise
- TV/Streaming: Bally Sports Florida/ESPN+
- Radio: WPOW 96.5-FM2; WBZT 1230-AM (West Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); WCZR 101.7-FM (Treasure Coast); SiriusXM
- Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932
- Last Season: Toronto won Regular Season Series 3-1; Florida won Eastern Conference Semifinals 4-1
- This season: @Florida, Thursday/April 16; @Toronto, Nov. 28/April 1
- All-time Regular Season Series: Toronto leads 48-36-7, 7 ties
- Up Next for the Panthers: Saturday vs. Vancouver Canucks, 7 p.m.