TAMPA — The Florida Panthers have struggled to be consistently good this season.
Throughout the season, Florida has been able to win two consecutive games just three times and have yet to have a real winning streak of three games in a row so far.
Florida’s lack of consistency showed again on Saturday night when they followed up a dominant win over the Detroit Red Wings with a 4-1 loss to the host Tampa Bay Lightning.
After going into the third tied at 1, the Panthers gave up three in the final period and ended up losing to the Lightning — again.
“You want to win a few games in a row but we are still learning and building our game,” Panthers captain Sasha Barkov said.
”At some point, we need to start putting wins together but we have a good chance tomorrow (against the Seattle Kraken) so we don’t want to stick on this for too long.”
After losing 24 games en route to a Presidents’ Trophy last season, the Panthers have already lost 15 games a third of the way through this one under new head coach Paul Maurice.
The Panthers have been marred by injury and illness — with Anton Lundell, Radko Gudas, Patric Hornqvist and Spencer Knight all out on Saturday — but they are running out of excuses two months in.
”We were not good tonight, but this team has played hard,” Maurice said.
”We have not had consistency with wins but this is going to be a grind. By the time we get to the end of the month, we will have played 23 playoff teams and 13 non-playoff teams and have gone to the West Coast twice and have played 17 games without Barkov, Tkachuk or (Aaron Ekblad.)”
Still, the NHL is a results-based business and the Panthers are now 6-7-3 against teams holding a playoff position.
Florida has to beat the best to be considered part of that group and they have not been able to do it.
That is one reason the Panthers are not one of those teams holding down a postseason spot.
”I think this is going to be a grind straight through,” Maurice said.
”I don’t think there are going to be eight easy marks in the East like there was last year. I think the balance of the league has proven — especially in the Atlantic Division — that it will be a grind every night.”
In most cases, it has been a tale of two teams throughout the season.
On Thursday, the Panthers dominated puck possession and held the Red Wings to just 20 shots the whole game in a 5-1 win where it never felt close.
In Tampa, they weathered a 19-shot first period and held on for dear life until the Lightning separated itself from Florida in the third.
The first started slow but it quickly escalated when Anthony Cirelli sent a feed to Pat Maroon in the slot that went undetected by the Florida defense.
Maroon took that wide-open shot and beat Sergei Bobrovsky high-blocker side 8:40 into the game to take the early lead.
At that point, shots were knotted at 7.
The Lightning outshot the Panthers 12-2 for the remainder of the period.
Bobrovsky kept the Panthers in the game with multiple big saves across three penalty kills throughout the period and Tampa Bay entered the break with a one-goal lead.
Zac Dalpe tied things up 6:02 into the second with a bank shot off a Tampa defender with his second goal in three games since getting called up from AHL Charlotte.
The Panthers ended up getting four power play opportunities in the second period to give them a shot to take the lead but the Lightning shut them down each time.
Tampa Bay started the third with a big momentum boost after killing off the remainder of its final penalty kill of the second and it came out firing.
Brayden Point took the lead back 3:03 into the third, then Mikhail Sergachev scored four minutes later on a goal that Maurice thought required a second look.
Bobrovsky was knocked down moments before Sergachev blasted a slap shot into the open net, but upon review, it was determained that it was Aaron Ekblad who tripped Bobrovsky and the Lightning forward who was screening him.
The Panthers were given a bench minor for the unsuccessful challenge but killed off the penalty.
Steven Stamkos scored on a breakaway with 3:15 to go to seal the game.
Bobrovsky finished the game with 34 saves on 38 shots, keeping the Panthers in the game for the majority of the game.
At the end of the day, Florida gave up 15 scoring chances in the third period and a high-powered Lightning team made them pay.
COLBY’S THREE STARS OF THE GAME
1. Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay (24 saves, win)
2. Brayden Point, Tampa Bay (goal)
3. Cal Foote, Tampa Bay (two assists)
PANTHERS ON DECK
SEATTLE KRAKEN AT FLORIDA PANTHERS
- When: Sunday, 6 p.m.
- Where: FLA Live Arena, Sunrise
- TV/Streaming: Bally Sports Florida; ESPN+
- Radio: WPOW 96.5-FM 2; WBZT 1230-AM (Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); SiriusXM
- Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932
- Season Series (Florida leads 1-0): Panthers 5, Kraken 1 (Dec 3)
- Last season: Kraken won 2-0
- All-time regular season series: Seattle leads 2-1-0
- Up Next for the Panthers: Tuesday vs. Columbus Blue Jackets, 7 p.m.