The Panthers and their AHL affiliate – the Springfield Thunderbirds – weren’t far away from one another on Saturday; an hour and a half, to be exact.
It doesn’t happen often, but the Panthers were in Boston to face the Bruins at the TD Garden for a matinee game while just 6 hours later, the AHL squads of both teams met at the MassMutual Center in Springfield.
Despite the Panthers and Bruins being in the same playoff situations respectively as their affiliates, the two games had opposite endings with the Thunderbirds coming out victorious 3-2 and the Panthers falling 6-2.
For the Panthers, it was their 15th loss in the last 20 games and their fifth in 5 tries this season against the Bruins.
Thomas Vanek scored one of the two Florida goals as a point shot rebounded off teammate Colton Sceviour before hitting the trade-deadline pick-up in the league and sliding into the net.
It was only Vanek’s second goal since joining the Panthers 16 games ago, and it got the Panthers tied with the Bruins at 1 just 1:38 into the 2nd period. After the Bruins countered 6 minutes later, Jaromir Jagr notched his 16th goal of the season on the power play to tie the game at 2.
A shot from an angle by Keith Yandle bounced off goaltender Tuukka Rask and right to Jagr in the slot, who wristed it through a screen and into the top shelf. That would be the end of things for the Panthers as the Bruins went on to scored three unanswered goals, including two empty-netters, in the final minute and 44 seconds to seal the deal.
After being mathematically eliminated from playoff contention following Thursday’s loss to Montreal, there were no post-season implications on the line for the Panthers, and a loss to Boston, who’s still fighting for a playoff spot, meant they weren’t able to play the role of spoiler.
Aleksander Barkov sat out with an upper-body injury for the second consecutive game while Michael Sgarbossa drew into the lineup for the first time since his last game on March 7th.
Reto Berra got the start in net with both James Reimer (upper-body) and Roberto Luongo (lower-body) out of the lineup once again. Adam Wilcox served as Berra’s back up for the second game in a row.
Less than 2 hours down the road, the Springfield Thunderbirds, in their first season as the Panthers’ affiliate, met the Providence Bruins in front of a sold out crowd at the MassMutual Center.
The Thunderbirds scored three times in a span of less than 9 minutes in the opening period, and that was enough to fend off two second-period goals and a strong push in the 3rd by the Bruins.
Mackenzie Weegar scored his 13th goal of the season, which leads all Springfield blueliners, with a wicked slap shot from the right circle after a feed by Jayce Hawryluk from below the goal line. The puck just inside the far post before fall behind 19-year old Providence starter Dan Vladar.
Tony Turgeon, who’s signed to an AHL deal with the Thunderbirds and typically plays the role of enforcer, scored his first and second career AHL goals, with each coming on a different goaltender.
His first of the night came on a center-lane drive during which he received a pass from forward Matt Leitner before backhanding the puck through the legs of Vladar and forcing him out of the game.
Turgeon then deflected a Weegar point shot past the incoming Malcom Subban, who performed admirably in relief the rest of the way for the Bruins.
Weegar finished the night with 1 goal and 2 assist, all of which came in the 1st period. Sam Brittain was sharp, especially in the 3rd period, and made 32 saves on 34 shots in his 8th AHL appearance of the season. Matt Buckles, a 2013 draft pick of the Panthers, picked up an assist on Turgeon’s second goal, giving him points in each of his first 3 AHL games.
The win gives Springfield wins in 9 of its last 11 home games, although they’re mathematically unable to earn a playoff spot as well.
The Panthers are set to return home on Monday to begin the final home stand of the season. They’ll face the Montreal Canadiens for the final time while the Thunderbirds will travel to Bridgeport to meet the Sound Tigers for a Tuesday morning math=ch-up.