“Good teams find a way to win. Good teams don’t lose two in a row.” That’s what Panthers head coach Bob Boughner said to his team before Saturday’s home opener at the BB&T Center. And it worked.
After an opening night loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Friday in which almost everything but the final score seemed to go the Panthers’ way, they went back to work.
The Panthers managed 26 scoring chances at even strength while allowing just 11 by the Lightning and only four of which were of the high-danger variety.
It was more of the same on Saturday. More pucks and bodies to the front of the net and more confidences than they’ve shown in a long time.
Goals by Nikita Kucherov and Vladislav Namestnikov came within a minute and 18 seconds of each other to put the Panthers in a 2-0 hole less than a quarter of the way into the opening period, but they were hardly fazed.
Evgenii Dadonov notched his first goal of the season and and first in the NHL since November 15th, 2011 when an Aaron Ekblad point shot ricocheted off the left post and landed in front of the 28-year old Russian in the low slot.
His shot into the top-shelf behind Andrei Vasilevskiy, who started for the Lightning for the second consecutive night, was one of 24 the Panthers had in the 1st period and gave the Panthers their first power play goal of the season.
Jonathan Huberdeau was awarded a secondary assist on the play, giving him his 200th point in the NHL.
Two minutes into the 2nd period, Nick Bjugstad got on the scoresheet with his first marker of the season, taking a lead feed from Dadonov and wristing the puck into the top left corner of the net from the inside of the right face-off circle.
The goal kicked off what was a dominating period of play by the Panthers as they added 16 more shots to their total and created 13 scoring chances to the Lightning’s four.
Before the frame ended, however, Brayden Point slipped a shot between the arm and body of James Reimer for Tampa’s third goal of the game. It would be the last time the cross-state and Atlantic Division foes would hold a lead in the game as the Panthers quickly took control of the game in the 3rd period.
Colton Sceviour tied things up at three as he took a sweet pass by Micheal Haley straight to the front of net, chipping the puck over the right pad of Andrei Vasilevskiy, and 36 seconds later, Jared McCann sniped home his first goal of the year, giving the Panthers their first lead of the game.
McCann’s goal was originally waved off as a result of goaltender interference, but the referees went to their headsets and reviewed the play with the entire crowd standing, waving their arm up and down, and yelling “goal” in sync.
“I saw the ref wave it off so I didn’t know what was going to happen,” said McCann, who was skating in his 100th career NHL game. “I kind of said a prayer there real quick and it was answered.”
There was another short break to breathe before Vincent Trocheck came racing down the wing in pursuit of an insurance goal just before the midway point of the 3rd. He dropped the puck back to Radim Vrbata, who’s eventual shot on net created a small rebound at the top of the crease.
Trocheck outmuscled 6’6″, 223-pound defenseman Victor Hedman to swat the puck into the net, making it a 5-3 lead for the Panthers.
Things got hairy in the end as the Panthers began a bit of a parade to the penalty box, which included a rare 4-minute roughing call on Aleksander Barkov for taking exception to a questionable hit by Kucherov on Mike Matheson.
“This is a big character win,” said Boughner of the victory, which was his first as an NHL head coach. “I thought the boys showed that. Even at the end when we had to kill off some penalties, there were guys diving face-first and sacrificing their bodies. Those are all great signs.”
Reimer, making his first start of the year for the Panthers, finished with 26 saves on 30 shots. Vasilevskiy managed 43 saves on 48 shots faced.
“You got to give them credit, they played a hell of a game,” said Lightning captain Steven Stamkos of the Panthers. “They peppered [Vasilevskiy] and we didn’t help him out.”
For the Panthers, they’ve put a noticeably different brand of hockey on display to start the year. Early returns suggest the players are buying in.
“It’s the best I’ve seen out of a team in the first two games,” said Vincent Trocheck. “Coming into the season you want to get used to playing 18 to 20 minutes a game, and everybody in here was going full speed.”
Now, they’ll have some to work out the kinks and rest up before facing the St. Louis Blues at home five days from now on Thursday.
Tonight was a big night for us,” said Bjugstad. “Definitely proud of the guys in this room. We’ll just keep going from here.”
- Vincent Trocheck logged a team-high 26:02 of ice time, and Keith Yandle led the defense at 23:26.
- Owen Tippett, Denis Malgin, and Mackenzie Weegar were scratched for the second consecutive game.
- The Panthers went 1/4 on the power play and 5/6 on the penalty kill.