The Florida Panthers lost defenseman Aaron Ekblad to what appeared to be a shoulder injury early in their game Friday night against the New York Islanders.
Aside from Matthew Tkachuk’s goal moments later, the night really did not get much better after that.
Yes, Florida took that one-goal lead into the second period but the Islanders took control from that point on and rolled to a 5-1 win.
Before leaving for New York on Thursday afternoon, Tkachuk talked about how important games against teams like the Islanders are.
With the Panthers staring up at so many teams — the Isles included — every game is now taking on even more importance.
“We put ourselves in this situation,” Tkachuk told Florida Hockey Now.
Tkachuk, as usual, was blunt in his assessment of another misfire by his Florida squad as the Panthers go into their Christmas Break eight points back of the Washington Capitals for the final wild card spot in the East.
While the Capitals bounced back from a rough start, things are not looking good for the Panthers right now.
It led Tkachuk to lash out at his team’s performance afterward.
“Not very good. We deserved what we got tonight,” Tkachuk said. “There have been games this year we definitely deserved to win but tonight we did not. We did not play a very good game in front of Bob and he did a hell of a job to keep us in it.
“We truly just … lots of mistakes. Probably cheating it is the best way to put it. You can’t do that against any team in this league. We need to find a way to use this break to get healthy. We have an extended break and we have had bad luck with that but it is no excuse. We have to find ways to win. We’re so behind where we have to be right now. Every individual needs to find a way to make a bigger difference than what we have this year.”
The Islanders came out firing in the second, outshooting the Panthers 16-6 in the period getting goals from Anthony Beauvillier and Ryan Pulock to take a lead they would not give back.
Florida had some chances in the third to get the equalizer, but the Islanders scored twice within a span of 71 seconds as rookie Aatu Räty (making his NHL debut) and veteran Zach Parise all but put the nail in Florida’s coffin.
New York’s fifth goal of the night came into an empty net with 4:10 remaining.
The Panthers go into their break riding their third losing streak of the season as they have lost three straight and six of the past eight.
While coach Paul Maurice said Thursday that he liked his team’s spirited effort in practice in Sunrise before boarding the northbound jet, he certainly did not like what he saw on Friday.
Florida, despite the early lead from Tkachuk’s goal in front of goalie Ilya Sorokin, never did find its game against the Islanders.
It cost them — and this may be one of those games Florida looks back on at the end of the season and shakes its collective head at.
“I wouldn’t put tonight’s game in with any of the games we have played recently,’’ Maurice said. “We were behind it right from the start. Could never catch up. Our goalie was really good for the whole game and we didn’t give him a chance to have a great night by the turnovers.
“We are the best forechecking team in the National Hockey League and we couldn’t get a puck in deep, couldn’t get it to go. We had absolutely no legs from start to finish. If you can’t skate, you can’t win.”
GR’S THREE STARS OF THE GAME
1. Anthony Beauvillier, Islanders (2 goals, assist)
2. Ryan Pulock, Islanders (goal, 11 shot attempts)
3. Zach Parise, Islanders (goal, 9 shot attempts)
PANTHERS ON DECK
MONTREAL CANADIENS AT FLORIDA PANTHERS
- When: Thursday, 7 p.m.
- Where: FLA Live Arena, Sunrise
- TV/Streaming: 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
- Last season: Florida won 3-1
- All-time regular season series: Florida leads 51-38-11, 6 ties
- Up Next for the Panthers: Dec. 30 at Carolina Hurricanes, 7:30 p.m.