On Sunday morning, Daylight Savings Time will begin, and the Panthers will be wishing they could turn their clocks forward to next season instead of Spring’s usual 1 hour.
Saturday night saw yet another loss come the Panthers’ way, making it 5 straight and 8 dropped over their last 9 games since winning 5 in a row on the road on a West Coast swing in the middle of February.
This time, a depleted Lightning roster handed the Panthers – who left a bit weaker than when they arrived – a 3-2 decision at Amalie Arena in Tampa.
Now 8 points back of the second wild card spot in the Eastern Conference, the Panthers would basically have to win all of their remaining 15 games to solidify a playoff spot.
It’s a different scenario than the one that saw them within reach of the Atlantic Division’s top spot just a couple of weeks ago. The Lightning entered the matchup two points ahead of the Panthers, who they had been behind for most of the season and as of late.
A recent surge has put the Panthers’ cross-state rivals back into the playoff conversation all while losing 3 centers – Vladislav Namestnikov, Cedric Paquette, and Tyler Johnson – to injury on Thursday.
A feisty game was in store between the two teams, and it started early when Alex Petrovic fought J.T. Brown in the 1st period after the former was thrown hard into the corner boards not long before.
With 16:32 gone by, Jaromir Jagr netted his 14th goal of the season and second in as many nights to give the Panthers a 1-0 lead. A shot from the right side by Aleksander Barkov deflected off Jonathan Huberdeau in the slot and over to the left side where Jagr swung his stick and hit the puck into the net from a seemingly impossible angle.
Mark Pysyk got another one, also his second goal in the past 2 games, on a point shot less than 3 minutes later.
Things became nasty in the 2nd period when defenseman Aaron Ekblad took a hard, high elbow into the defensive zone boards by Gabriel Dumont. After Keith Yandle stepped in to stick up for his defense partner, Nikita Kucherov would get the Lightning to within one goal on the ensuing power play.
Not long after that, Denis Malgin was leveled into the curved part of the boards near the Panthers’ bench area by Anton Stralman. Both Ekblad and Malgin left the game and didn’t return after suffering concussions, according to head coach Tom Rowe.
Petrovic, who jumped in to defend Malgin, left the game after being dealt a game misconduct, leaving the Panthers with 4 defensemen and 11 forwards the rest of the way.
For Ekblad, it’s now his fourth concussion in the last 4 years after suffering one at the World Cup during the preseason, another last January at the end of the Panthers’ 12-game winning streak, and one just prior to his rookie season.
Seven minutes after their first marker, Yanni Gourde scored his first career NHL goal shorthanded while killing off a Florida power play, tying the game at 2. A misplay at the other end of the rink allowed a break the other way, and Gourde scored despite being hounded by Vincent Trocheck from behind.
With just 2:23 remaining in the 3rd period, the Lightning took their first lead of the game after Ondrej Palat deflected an Andrej Sustr point shot past James Reimer, who finished with 31 saves on 34 shots.
Since firing Gerard Gallant at the end of November, the Panthers have scored 2 or fewer goals in 26 of their 45 games played, and they’ve done it in 6 of their last 8 games.
They last won in regulation on February 20th against St. Louis, the final win of a 5-game win streak.
The season is quickly coming to a close for the Panthers, and it won’t end easily. They’ll return home to face the young, high-flying Maple Leafs on Tuesday before heading back on the road to meet the Blue Jackets, Rangers, and Penguins this coming week.