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The Florida Panthers ‘Heard the Boos,’ Turned them into Cheers

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Florida Panthers defenseman Brandon Montour celebrates with Sasha Barkov after scoring the winning goal in overtime against the Chicago Blackhawks on Friday night in Sunrise. (AP Photo/Michael Laughlin)

SUNRISE — There were more than a few fans booing the Florida Panthers on Friday night.

They were heard — and answered.

The Panthers found themselves down a pair of goals to the Chicago Blackhawks after the first period of play on Friday night, a 2-0 deficit which held up throughout the second and into the third.

Fans at FLA Live Arena let their displeasure be known.

To be honest, the players on the ice were not exactly blaming anyone but themselves.

“We heard some boos there,’’ Matthew Tkachuk said, “but turned it around at the end and heard some cheers.”

Yeah they did.

The Panthers, mind you, are not blaming their fans for turning on them a bit. It was definitely warranted.

Tkachuk pointed out what fans already knew: The Panthers should not have been losing to a team like the Blackhawks.

Not in a playoff race at this point in the season.

But, the Panthers did turn those frowns upside down — and Tkachuk was a big reason for the turnaround.

Florida ended up scoring three goals in the third to take a 3-2 lead before the Blackhawks got a desperation goal with 44.3 seconds left to force overtime.

The Panthers ended up winning 4-3 when Brandon Montour scored in the extra session, a beauty of a goal which should have led SportsCenter highlights that night although it probably did not.

In the end, the Panthers got two points to keep pace in the postseason chase.

And that is all that mattered.

“We had to play better in the third than we did in the first two,’’ Tkachuk said. “There was frustration. Let’s be real here; that’s a team ranked 30th in the league. We needed the win more than they did.

“To be down 2-0 at any point in that game was frustrating. But we know they still have stuff to play for and those are tough games. It was not the start we wanted but we did a good job in the third.”

The Blackhawks are playing out what has been a horrible season.

They traded away one of their legends in Patrick Kane, have been at the bottom of the standings all year.

Chicago is also now a team many do not know, a team filled with young players trying to make their way.

The Blackhawks, simply put, had nothing to lose.

Florida, on the other hand, has a lot on the line in these final games as it tries to chase down the Islanders and Penguins for one of the wild card spots.

There is a lot of pressure on this Florida team and it certainly looked it on Friday night.

Although the Panthers came out firing everything they had at Petr Mrazek in the opening minutes of the first, Chicago did break the ice off the rush and you could sense Florida tightening up.

The Panthers looked tight and out of synch for much of the night as they pressed and pressed but got nothing out of it.

Finally, Sam Bennett scored off a nice feed from Tkachuk at XX of the third to make it a 2-1 game. Just 29 seconds later, Sam Reinhart scored and it was 2-2.

Chicago made things a little more difficult that it should have been, but the Panthers got the win they needed.

That is really all that matters.

“We were tight for two periods,” coach Paul Maurice said. “There is a pressure in all these games, right? We feel that every time we come to the rink. This was a must-win game and you could feel it. We were not moving our feet, we were not getting things going. …

“Then the pressure came off and we started to relax, started to skate and good things happened. Good on them for finding the fire. These guys want to win so bad and really do care. It was not a casual effort. They do have the heart. But they were feeling the weight of playing against an underdog. We were tight, but we turned the corner.”

The Panthers have another game tonight in Sunrise as the Winnipeg Jets come calling.

Maurice’s former team remains in a playoff spot in the Western Conference despite losing seven of its past eight and is desperate to get something going.

The Panthers should not be as tight as they were on Friday night.

At least they better not be.

”We figured it out,” Maurice said. “We know we have to be loose, know we have to drive and be relaxed in our game. Don’t be so damned uptight about the game of hockey.

“And perhaps that’s on the coach as well, squeezing them and showing them a lot of video on how good (Chicago) is off the rush. The first two goals were exactly the video we showed for two days. … Tomorrow, we’re going to be a much faster team.”

PANTHERS ON DECK

WINNIPEG JETS AT FLORIDA PANTHERS

  • When: Saturday, 7 p.m.
  • Where: FLA Live Arena, Sunrise
  • TV: Bally Sports Florida; ESPN+
  • Radio: WPOW 96.5-FM2; WBZT 1230-AM (Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); SiriusXM
  • Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932
  • This season (Winnipeg leads 1-0): Jets 5, Panthers 2 (Dec. 6)
  • Last season: Florida won 2-0
  • All-time regular season series: Atlanta Thrashers/Winnipeg Jets lead 51-31-8, 5 ties

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