Late goal spoils Ekblad’s return in Panthers’ 4-3 loss to Hurricanes

Image courtesy of @turbuL3NT2 / COTP Photography

The Panthers are now playing for pride. 

Entering Tuesday’s game against the Carolina Hurricanes, the maximum number of points the Panthers could theoretically reach was 95.

Jeff Skinner, the Hurricanes’ leading goal-scorer, lit the lamp with 3:55 remaining in the 3rd period to give Carolina the lead, and it would become the game-winner when the clock hit 0:00.

After their 4-3 loss, the Panthers’ maximum point total is down to 93 – which they’d need to win out to reach – and odds are it wouldn’t be enough to propel them into the playoffs.

“At the end of the day, these are the times you go through,” said head coach Tom Rowe. “You learn how to win. The feeling that they have now really hurts, especially after having such a successful season last year – 103 points, a divisional title.”

“Expectations were incredibly high this year.”

The Panthers have just 3 games in their last 13 dating back to February 22nd, and before that, they won 8 of 9, a stretch which included a franchise-record 5-game winning streak on the road. They sit 8 points back of the Toronto Maple Leafs, who own the second wild card spot with a game in hand.

Reto Berra made his first start as a member of the Panthers since being acquired from Colorado during the off-season. He made 21 saves on 25 shots in what was his first NHL start since December 9, 2015.

“I felt good overall,” Berra said. “I mean at the beginning I was fighting the puck a little bit. I didn’t play for like three weeks and I never played in this year in this league. Like I said, at the beginning I felt I was a little bit fighting, but the longer the game went on I felt better.”

Aaron Ekblad returned from a 4-game absence after suffering a concussion on March 11th against the Lightning.

The 21-year old was paired with the always-reliable Mark Pysyk and went on to log the 4th-most minutes among the Panthers’ defensemen.

Over the course of the game, the Panthers held 3 different leads – 1-0, 2-1, and 3-2 – but each time, the Hurricanes scored shortly after to tie things up before Skinner scored the go-ahead goal late in the 3rd.

Aleksander Barkov gave the Panthers the initial lead with his 20th goal of the year – the second straight year he reached the milestone – as he deflected Jason Demers’ shot from the right point past Cam Ward. Teuvo Teravainen answered less than 4 minutes later.

Reilly Smith finished off a pretty passing play between him and his linemates, Vincent Trocheck and Jussi Jokinen, to take the lead back, but rookie Sebastian Aho made it a tie game again just 2 minutes and 33 seconds after in what what a 4-goal opening frame.

Trocheck’s assist on the goal gave him his second consecutive 50-point season.

Less than 2 minutes into the middle period, Keith Yandle’s bank shot from below the goal line found its way through the legs of Ward to give the Panthers a 3-2 lead, but 30 seconds later, Skinner’s first of the night would tie it for the final time.

“It’s unbelievable,” said Barkov of the team’s inability to hold leads this season. “I don’t what to say about that. I don’t know how many games we’ve lost in the last five minutes. We’ve been leading almost every game the last two months and then we find a way to lose them.”

The Arizona Coyotes will visit Sunrise, Florida for the only time this season to face the Panthers on Thursday night. South Florida-native and former Jr. Panther Jakob Chychrun will face the Panthers at the BB&T Center for the first time since being drafted in 2016.

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