MIAMI -- Boos cascaded inside BB&T Arena as the first period ran out on the Florida Panthers on Thursday. It was another defensive debacle for the Panthers, who had coughed up three goals on just nine shots to the Philadelphia Flyers. Sergei Bobrovsky was bad and his defense was worse, and the Flyers were on their way to extending their lead on Florida for the final Wild Card postseason spot in the Eastern Conference.
When the Panthers returned to the ice for the second period, Samuel Montembault was instead the goaltender leading them. For the fifth time this season, Bobrovsky, the $70-million man Florida signed in the offseason to shore up its often-porous defense, didn't make it to the end of a game he started. For the second time, he didn't make it to the start of the second period and it doomed the Panthers to a 6-2, blowout loss in Sunrise.
The loss drops Florida (30-21-6) five points behind Philadelphia (32-19-7) for the second Wild Card spot in the East. The Panthers also still trail the Toronto Maple Leafs by two points for the third and final playoff spot in the Atlantic Division.
A return home from a two-game road trip couldn't quell Florida's post-All-Star break blues. The Panthers lost for the sixth time in their last eight games -- and for the second time to the Flyers in just four days -- and it was mostly noncompetitive. Philadelphia tore open a 3-0 lead in the first period, punctuating the frame with two goals in a 55-second stretch in the last three minutes of the period. Florida mostly outplayed Flyers in the first period -- and outshot the them 11-9 -- and still had to play from behind for the final 40 minutes.
The Panthers commanded the puck throughout the majority of the first period. Aside from four shorthanded minutes, they spent most of the period setting up offense on Philadelphia's third of the ice and they even generated two good looks on a shorthanded stretch in the opening five minutes.
Just after the Flyers' first power play ended, they got on the board. Philadelphia defenseman Matt Niskanen ripped a slap shot from the right point and Sergei Bobrovsky gave up a long rebound in front of the net. The Panthers' defense was out of position and right winger James Van Riemsdyk popped in the opening goal to put the Flyers ahead 1-0.
The third goal was similar. Less than a minute after forward Tyler Pitlick put Philadelphia ahead 2-0 with a slap shot from the right face-off circle, Flyers forward Michael Raffl charged down the left side of the ice off a Florida turnover and ripped a no-angle shot at Bobrovsky. The goaltender gave up another rebound and this time defenseman MacKenzie Weegar simply couldn't handle the puck in front of the net. Right winger Nicolas Aube-Kubel took it away and tapped in another goal to give Philadelphia a commanding 3-0 lead.
Before the first period was even over, the Panthers had given up at least three goals for the seventh time in eight games since the All-Star break. In its first 22 periods since the break -- plus one overtime session -- Florida gave up 28 goals and has now given up 29 total in February. Bobrovsky and the Panthers defense once again put Florida in an almost-unwinnable situation.
There was a push, though, because there always is with these Panthers, who have twice overcome four-goal third-period deficits this season. All-Star left winger scored just 33 seconds into the third period and center Aleksander Barkov added another less than five minutes later to quickly cut the Flyers' lead in half.
There were too many wasted opportunities the rest of the night. Philadelphia goaltender Carter Hart stopped the first 19 shots he faced and finished with XX saves. Florida only got one power play and almost entirely wasted it, managing just one nonthreatening shot on goal in its two minutes of extra strength.
Boos rained down then, too, every time the Panthers turned the puck over or had a shot miss the net entirely. The six-game winning streak Florida took into the NHL All-Star Game is now a distant memory for a team whose problems spread much further than just one end of the rink.
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