There wasn’t much to be proud of early on this season for the Panthers, but that’s changed quickly over the past couple of weeks. A win over the Kings on Saturday night not only made it 4 in a row, but it made the Panthers the first team in the NHL to sweep the California road-trip this season.
After a convincing 3-1 win over the Anaheim Ducks on Friday, it was back to work the very next day for the Panthers and the effort was hardly any different.
And it couldn’t be if they want to have any chance at redemption, because it was just over a week ago when the Kings handed the Panthers a 6-3 loss on home ice in their first game back from a 5-day bye-week.
A game that head coach Tom Rowe said the team “burned the tape” of.
In it’s place, they’ll put tonight’s 3-2 win where, aside from a stretch in the 2nd period, they played at or above the level of the Los Angeles Kings.
Jonathan Huberdeau made it 1-0 with a laser beam from the top of the left circle in the 1st period. That gave way to Jussi Jokinen extending the lead to 2-0 just 1:14 into the middle frame on a top-shelf snipe from the slot thanks to a feed from Reilly Smith beneath the goal line.
Dwight King scored the Kings’ first goal just over 4 minutes later before Tanner Pearson tied the game at 2 just past the halfway point of the period. King’s goal was challenged by the Panthers after Devin Shore was thought to have interfered with goaltender Roberto Luongo, however the replay showed that Shore was checked into the crease by Florida’s Mark Pysyk.
Luongo was stellar in net as he made is 963rd NHL appearance, tying him for 4th on the all-time list with Ed Belfour. The 37-year old earned his 3rd win in his last 5 appearances, and allowed just 2 goals on 35 shots.
It took all of 15 seconds after the drop of the puck to start the 3rd period for the Panthers to regain the lead. Aleksander Barkov stormed down the right wing, fended off a couple of Los Angeles defenders, and backhanded the puck from below the goal line between Peter Budaj’s outstretched pad and the post.
It would stand as the game-winning goal as the Panthers finished off the Kings by playing the same solid defense they played on Friday against the Ducks. There was a stretch during the 3rd period where the Kings had just 1 shot on goal in 12 minutes, and some line shuffling by Tom Rowe worked to keep the lead intact.
Florida is now 19-1-5 when scoring 3 or more goals in regulation and currently hold the 3rd playoff spot in the Atlantic Division as a result of being tied with Boston (64 points) and having a game in hand.
The Panthers didn’t score on the power play, but their penalty kill continued its impressive run, killing off all 3 of the Kings’ man-advantage opportunities. They’ve killed off 9 of their last 9 penalties, 12 of their last 13, and are first in the league in penalty-kill percentage since January 19th at 90.3 percent.
The trip through California was by no means a walk in the park with all three playing playoff-caliber hockey as usual, so the fact that the Panthers were able to get through it unscathed is a testament to how far they’ve come in a short period of time.
Things haven’t been comes easy this season, but they’re starting to get themselves into a groove of playing solid hockey. This is several games now of playing consistent hockey, for the most part, and there’s just one road game left on this trip before they head back home.
The St. Lous Blues will welcome the Panthers after having lost to the Buffalo Sabres 3-2 on Saturday. They had won 6 straight before Saturday’s game, and Monday’s matchup will be the first of two meetings with the Panthers this season, with the next one coming in April in Florida.