11. That’s how many days ago Panthers captain Derek MacKenzie said the team’s season was on the line heading into a 5-game road trip.
And on the line it was.
After a rough 6-3 loss at home to the Los Angeles Kings in their return from a 5-day, league-mandated bye-week, the Panthers had 56 points and sat 4 points back the second Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference.
The trip out west wasn’t supposed to be easy. The five games included playoff and Stanley Cup contenders in the Predators, Sharks, Ducks, Kings, and the Blues.
And, wait for it.
The first sweep of a 5-game road trip on the Panthers’ 24-year history.
The only team this season to defeat the Sharks, Ducks, and Kings at home.
While Monday night’s 2-1 win over the Blues didn’t appear to be as convincing as the higher-scoring affairs that came before it, it certainly felt convincing.
With 4.6 seconds left on the clock in the 3rd period, Vincent Trocheck winded up just enough for a half-slapper from the high slot. Goaltender Jake Allen, who was marvelous all night long for the Blues, couldn’t catch even a glimpse of the puck until it was in the back of the net and after Reilly Smith jumped into the air in celebration in front of him.
The latest goal scored to win in regulation in franchise history and back into a playoff spot for the 2nd time in 3 nights.
It capped off a hard-fought final frame for the Panthers – which included the game-tying goal by St. Louis’ Kyle Brodziak early on – after Jonathan Marchessault gave them a 1-0 lead just 10:40 into the 1st period.
Marchessault was the beneficiary of a perfect pass from below the goal line by a forechecking Nick Bjugstad, the two of which were on a line with Michael Sgarbossa who missed the previous 2 games with a minor injury.
Scoring was tough to come by for both teams as the goaltenders at either end were stopping everything.
James Reimer allowed 1 – a rebound chance after 2 consecutive saves before it – on 27 shots, while the aforementioned Allen allowed the 2 Florida goals on 33 shots.
Fittingly, both netminders were named the 2nd and 3rd stars of the game, respectively, and that is pretty representative of how things went.
And how about some more numbers?
The number of seconds the Panthers have trailed out of the total 18,000 seconds of hockey they’ve played over the past 5 games.
The number of even-strength goals allowed by the Panthers in their last 8 periods of hockey. This is thanks, in part, to the tweaked defensive pairings put together 3 games ago. Keith Yandle with Aaron Ekblad. Mark Pysyk with Alex Petrovic. Jason Demers with Mike Matheson.
How the Panthers have played over the past while is a testament to a lot of things, including how quickly the’ve turned things around and how perfectly things – most of which was planned last off-season – has come together at just the right time. It hasn’t been an easy road, but the obstacles have been overcome and everything is beginning to click.
Now, they’ll had back home where they’ll play 7 of their next 8 games at the friendly confines of the BB&T Center. The stretch will kick off on Wednesday when Connor McDavid visits Sunrise for the first time in his NHL career as the Oilers and Panthers will meet to complete the 2-game season series.
The Oilers defeated the Panthers in Edmonton on January 18th by a score of 4-3 in a shootout when McDavid’s game-winner barely crossed the goal line after James Reimer’s glove caught the puck inside of the net.