Before his game with the Florida Panthers on Thursday night, Vegas coach Pete DeBoer called the matchup a “David-and-Goliath’’ situation.
“No one is giving us a chance to win,” he said.
That’s why they play the games, eh, Pete?
The Panthers say they have to take the “Goliath” mentality in these final games before the postseason as they play with the target of being one of the best teams in the NHL on their back each night.
On Thursday, Vegas played its role very well in beating the Panthers 5-3 to snap its five-game losing streak all while ending the Panthers’ seven-game point run.
Vegas was able to slip back into a playoff spot in the rock-em, sock-em Western Conference with a victory that snapped a rare long slide in the Nevada desert.
The Knights are used to being the favorite — not being the underdog — especially when playing at home.
Although the Knights trailed 1-0 in midway through the first on a Carter Verhaeghe goal, Vegas controlled the pace and flow of the game almost exclusively.
Florida came back from a 3-1 deficit to tie the score in the third, but all that battling was for naught as a turnover in the offensive zone led to a breakaway and what turned out to be the game-winning goal.
Evgenii Dadonov, who has spent much of his NHL career with the Panthers, scored twice to give the Knights their 3-1 lead in the second.
“We were a little sloppy, a little slow to things early,’’ Florida coach Andrew Brunette said afterward. “It took us 30, 35-minutes to get dragged into the fight. Once we were in it, we were fine. It just took us a while.
“They were the more desperate team. They wanted it more. It’s a little disappointing, we got the power play to tie it and give up kind of a flukey goal-against.
“All in all, I’m not sure we deserved the game. They wanted it more. We got what we deserved.”
There were some highlights for the Panthers on Thursday but they were mostly individual.
Aaron Ekblad picked up three assists in the game to become the franchise’s all-time leading scoring defenseman; Sam Bennett scored his 25th goal.
Spencer Knight was good enough to win in his third consecutive start but the Panthers were just off.
A trip to Vegas will do that to you.
“That first period, they came out pretty hot,” Ekblad said. “We knew they would be a desperate team that played hard and we did a good job tying it up. Once we did, we lost it. But I thought we did a good job fighting back in the third and comebacks are never easy. We’re on a long, hard road trip and the focus shifts to tomorrow and trying to find a win.”
Florida ended up playing the game a tad shorthanded as Patric Hornqvist left the game after the second period. He appeared to get hurt on a hit in the second and did not return.
“I think he’s going to be OK, just a little sore,” Brunette said. “We will have better information in the morning.”
The Panthers were also playing without Anthony Duclair for the latter parts of the third after he was given a 10-minute misconduct for unsportsmanlike behavior.
Duclair was seen shouting what we can assume was some colorful language — and it may have been in the direction of the officials.
Brunette said he never got an explication for what went down.
“I have no idea. Nobody talks to me. I have no idea what happened,” he said. “I didn’t hear him say anything, I know he was high-sticked early and was upset about that non-call. Maybe it stemmed from that … actually, I have no idea. Zero. They do their thing and I no idea what the call was or why.”
Florida wraps up this four-game west coast trip later tonight in Orange County as it plays the Anaheim Ducks.
The Panthers not only saw their seven-game point streak come to a close with Thursday’s loss, but it was also their first road regulation loss since Feb. 1 at New York.
“Find a way to come out on top of a tough road trip,” Ekblad said of Friday’s goal. “I think 3-1-1 is a lot better than 2-2-1. Our focus has been to be a better road team and we have done a good job of that in the second half of the year. The focus for tomorrow is putting out a strong effort, head home and continue.”
GR’S THREE STARS OF THE GAME
1. Evgenii Dadonov, Vegas
2. Aaron Ekblad, Florida
3. Logan Thompson, Vegas