Florida Panthers Surge from 3-1 Down, Top Detroit 5-4

SUNRISE, FL - DECEMBER 28: Dominic Toninato #14 of the Florida Panthers celebrates his goal with teammates against the Detroit Red Wings at the BB&T Center on December 28, 2019 in Sunrise, Florida. (Photo by Eliot J. Schechter/NHLI via Getty Images)
SUNRISE, FL - DECEMBER 28: Dominic Toninato #14 of the Florida Panthers celebrates his goal with teammates against the Detroit Red Wings at the BB&T Center on December 28, 2019 in Sunrise, Florida. (Photo by Eliot J. Schechter/NHLI via Getty Images) /

While it wasn’t easy, the Florida Panthers got the job done Saturday night, beating the Detroit Red Wings 5-4.

The Florida Panthers needed to win tonight, and they did, but not in the best of ways. With a huge divisional clash versus Montreal coming the next night, looking to bounce back from an embarrassing 6-1 humbling against Tampa Bay, the Panthers didn’t look their best, but did just enough.

It wasn’t the “statement win” that a lot of fans or coaching staff might have hoped for after being spanked by a big rival, but two points come in many different ways in this league. Tonight, the Florida Panthers had an uphill battle against a team that, frankly, they shouldn’t have had trouble beating.

To put it into perspective, last time these two played, Florida smacked the Detroit Red Wings 4-0. Sergei Bobrovsky had his first shutout as a Panther, Jonathan Huberdeau skated around the Wings’ defense for fun, and Detroit mustered up just 23 shots all game. Through the first period alone on Saturday night, Detroit already had two goals and 17 shots.

It didn’t help that the Cats’ best defenseman, Aaron Ekblad, was out with upper-body injury. Alongside Ekblad, MacKenzie Weegar was also out of tonight’s game, also with an upper-body injury. Both are listed at day-to-day, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if both returned to the lineup tomorrow night.

Despite the two first period goals from Detroit, it was the Panthers who got the opening goal. Detroit took a penalty inside the opening 2:15 of the game, and the Panther power play got to work.

Just 31 seconds later, Evgenii Dadonov dispatched his 14th of the season. Dadonov did well to free himself up in the slot, Jonathan Huberdeau did well to pick him out, and the Russian fired the puck high past Jimmy Howard to give Florida their lead.

Detroit would bounce back roughly seven minutes after, and it was very sloppy from a Floridian perspective. The Panthers gave up all their goals in transition, with Detroit’s forwards much sharper than Florida’s defense in odd-man rushes.

Mike Hoffman gave the puck away in the offensive zone, leading to Filip Zadina springing Darren Helm through on goal. Helm beat backup Chris Driedger to his left side, giving Detroit their equalizer.

Shortly later, another giveaway led to another goal. The Wings quickly worked the puck into the defensive zone, with Andreas Athanasiou finding Dylan Larkin wide open in the slot. Neither Keith Yandle or Mark Pysyk picked up the Wings’ center, Driedger had no chance, and Detroit took the lead going into the first.

Quickly into the second, Detroit doubled their advantage. Just after Detroit took a penalty, Patrik Nemeth sent Frans Nielsen in on goal. Nielsen ended Florida’s 36-game run without giving up a shorthanded goal, again no chance for Driedger, and the Red Wings led 3-1.

One thing that I can compliment about the Panthers this season is that they tend to bounce back well in a lot of games. On the same power play, Brett Connolly fired home his 15th of the season (team-high) to make it 3-2.

After a few minutes, Florida would score two goals in nine seconds to regain the lead. The new-look third line of Frank Vatrano, Brian Boyle, and Mike Hoffman all helped create scoring opportunities, with Vatrano and Boyle both denied, but Hoffman following up Boyle’s between-the-legs effort to make it 3-3. Hoffman led the Panthers with three points tonight and put in a much-needed good game.

Nine seconds later, it was Dominic Toninato who would beat Howard. After a dump into the Detroit zone, Valtteri Filppula gifted the puck straight to Toninato, who scored his fourth goal of the season and Florida’s fourth goal of the night, 4-3.

From there on in, it was Chris Driedger‘s job to preserve the lead, and he did a fantastic job. Driedger stood on his head for a majority of the third period, winding up making 35 saves, the second straight start that he pulled off that.

Eventually, there was an inevitable feeling that Detroit was going to tie the game. The Red Wings, like the second half of the first period, were all over the Panthers, with the Cats struggling to hold onto the puck.

Eventually, Florida got their insurance goal, and from none other than Anton Stralman, because that’s exactly who you thought would pop up and get the eventual game-winner. Mike Hoffman did well to center the puck, and Stralman popped up from nowhere to score his fourth goal of the season, fourth in the last month, to make it 5-3 to Florida.

Detroit would score a rebound to make the final four minutes interesting, but the Panthers would hold on to secure the win. With Montreal’s loss across the state to Tampa Bay, the Panthers moved back into third place in the Atlantic, just two games behind Toronto for second place.

So, yes, the Florida Panthers may not have been as convincing as anticipated, but the two points are all that matters in the long run. Next comes a massive game in the Atlantic, with Florida (42 points) facing off with Montreal (41 points).

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The Panthers-Habs puck drop is scheduled for 7:00 P.M. Sunday night. The game is expected to bring in a massive crowd, so expect a playoff-like game for the Cats.