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Panthers handle Avalanche for first 4-0-0 start in franchise history

David Wilson, Miami Herald on

Published in Hockey

SUNRISE, Fla. — The Florida Panthers knew they had a chance to make some history this season.

It only took them four games to do it.

The Panthers blew an early lead Thursday in Sunrise, then scored twice and added an empty-net goal with 1:13 left to beat the Colorado Avalanche, 4-1, and stay undefeated. For the first time in franchise history, Florida (4-0-0) is perfect through four games.

The wins have mostly come easy, even though the opposition hasn’t been. The first two weeks of the Panthers’ season have been a nonstop gauntlet of Stanley Cup contenders and they’ve combined to outscore four of the best teams in the league 18-7.

The Avalanche (1-3-0) has started the season slow, but began the year as the betting favorite for the Cup and forced Florida into one of its worst stretches of the season to start Thursday. The Panthers didn’t attempt a shot for nearly five minutes and only took three in the first 14 before Sam Reinhart gave Florida another first-period lead.

It took a hustle play from Mason Marchment to make it happen. Center Anton Lundell sent a pass down the ice, and Marchment raced Colorado defenseman Sam Girard to try to prevent an icing call. They skated side by side nearly all the way to the end boards, where Marchment checked Girard out of the way to win the loose puck. He took his time while star forward Gabriel Landeskog headed his way, then tapped a backhand pass to the front of the net, where Reinhart scored his first goal as a Panther to give Florida a 1-0 lead with 5:28 left in the period.

After being held without a point in his first two games as a Panther, Reinhart moved down to the third line earlier this week, and has had a goal and two assists in two games since. Florida has scored in every game this season.

The Panthers quickly let the lead slip away, though. With 53.2 seconds left in the period, Florida couldn’t clear a rebound away from the front of the net — despite having a numbers advantage — and star right wing Mikko Rantanen beat Sergei Bobrovsky to tie the game 1-1. From there, it was an onslaught.

 

Florida started the season 0 for 9 on the power play before finally breaking through for its first power-play goal Tuesday, then it added another Thursday when forward Sam Bennett put the Panthers back ahead with a goal from the slot with 10:56 left in the second period. A little more than four minutes later, Carter Verhaeghe scored another and Florida went ahead 3-1.

The Panthers piled up 23 shots in the second period and outshot Colorado, 38-31. On the other end, Bobrovsky picked up a third straight win to start the season by putting together another gem against elite competition.

Bobrovsky made 30 saves on 31 shots, stopped 12 of 13 high-danger scoring chances and helped Florida’s penalty kill put together a second straight perfect performance.

The Panthers embraced lofty expectations at the start of the year. After years of being a league-wide laughingstock, Florida became an unlikely title contender last year, brought back nearly every important piece, and added highly touted rookies and high-profile role players around the edges. The Panthers were more than happy to finally feel the pressure that comes with the expectation of being one of the top teams in the league.

Through four games, it’s easy to see why. Eleven players have scored multiple points for Florida. All four lines have had one game when they had a case as the Panthers’ best. Bobrovsky has been fantastic in net and rookie goaltender Spencer Knight was even better in his lone start of the season Tuesday against the Lightning.

Florida’s season won’t be defined by its first few weeks, of course, but too many past seasons were derailed by them. These Panthers are already different than the perpetually underwhelming teams of old.

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