With their postseason hopes hanging in the balance of a 30-match sprint over the next two months, the Florida Panthers know the time is now, starting with a visit from an old adversary in Sunrise, Fla.
The Panthers, who sit three points out of the Eastern Conference’s second wild-card spot, will meet the in-state rival Tampa Bay Lightning on Monday night to start the second half of their season.
Florida hopes to pick up where it left off before the break when captain Aleksander Barkov sparked an overtime win against the NHL-leading Boston Bruins on Jan. 28.
Named as an All-Star replacement for Toronto Maple Leafs star Auston Matthews (sprained knee), Barkov scored the game-tying goal inside the final two seconds then set up Sam Reinhart’s game-winning blast 17 seconds into overtime for a 4-3 victory.
That gave the Bruins their first losing streak (0-1-1 in two games in Florida) and also gave the Panthers a big boost heading into the hiatus.
The overtime winner moved Barkov to a career-high 11-game point streak (five goals, 12 assists). Reinhart said the 2021 Selke Trophy winner brings more to the team than stats.
“I think all over the ice, just his presence out there is something everyone feeds off of,” said Reinhart, who notched his first career overtime goal. “Obviously, (his goal) was a massive one with a second left. When we need someone to step up, he’s there to do it.”
Of the remaining 30 contests, 18 will be played on the Panthers’ home ice, allowing them to settle in following the weekend’s All-Star festivities at their home arena.
Added coach Paul Maurice, “They get rested, come back, and now they have hope.”
They will also get healthy.
The goaltending tandem of Sergei Bobrovsky and Spencer Knight should be after AHL backstop Alex Lyon went 2-2-1 in the final five games. The return of fleet right winger Anthony Duclair (torn Achilles) is imminent.
The Lightning have feasted at home — winning a franchise-best 12 straight home games — but will start the second half by playing five of seven on the road. Included is a four-game road trip through the Western Conference starting after home matchups Tuesday and Thursday against the San Jose Sharks and Colorado Avalanche, respectively.
Coach Jon Cooper’s squad is 12-11-0 on the road but is 2-0-0 against its foe down south. It recorded the season’s second win by beating Florida 3-2 on Brayden Point’s overtime power-play goal on Oct. 21 in Sunrise.
The Lightning are 8-2-0 in their past 10 matches after sweeping the Minnesota Wild, Bruins and Los Angeles Kings to close the first half.
“It was three tough teams to play in this league — big, strong, fast, playoff teams,” Cooper said. “Our guys handled them well.
“The one thing — if there was a little bit of worry — was after a big win against the Bruins and coming into the break how we were going to handle the (Kings) game and if we were going to look past it. And they didn’t.”
–Field Level Media