Another comeback bid falls short as Panthers' skid hits three with loss to Kings
Published in Hockey
SUNRISE, Fla. — At the back of the Florida Panthers’ power play, Brandon Montour begged for help as he stared down the inevitability of a 2-on-1 rush for the Los Angeles Kings. The Panthers’ best chance to pull off a rare comeback in the first period Friday was about to spell doom. Blake Lizotte coasted across the blue line and zipped a pass to his right, where Adrian Kempe was waiting to take an uncontested snap shot. The Kings doubled their early lead and, right there, effectively dashed any chance at a Panthers win.
Florida lost its penultimate game of the first half, 4-3, in Sunrise and remains the only team in the NHL without a win after trailing by multiple goals at any point after a furious comeback effort fell short.
The loss, the Panthers’ third in a row, keeps Florida (23-22-6) five points behind the Pittsburgh Penguins for the eighth and final postseason spot in the Eastern Conference, with just one game left before the 2023 NHL All-Star Game. The Panthers will close out the first half with another game Saturday in Florida against the league-best Boston Bruins — their second back-to-back set of the week.
Anze Kopitar delivered the first blow with 6:35 left in the first after the Panthers lost track of the Los Angeles center and a pass back to him in front of the net was knocked past goaltender Alex Lyon, and Kempe came up with the devastating short-handed second goal with 2:02 left in the period to send Florida into the first intermission at down 2-0.
Although they had the only two power plays and a 5-3 edge in high-danger chances, the Panthers were forced to chase throughout after they failed to capitalize early.
A year after Florida led the NHL with 29 come-from-behind wins, the Panthers’ four comebacks are the fewest in the league this season and their best chance to start one against the Kings (28-17-6) turned into the biggest swing of the game.
Mere seconds after a penalty against Anton Lundell was rescinded when the referees determined the center wasn’t actually guilty of high sticking, Florida went on the first power play of the game. Given the 13-of-29 power-play run they took into the weekend, the Panthers had a real opportunity to erase their 1-0 deficit.
Instead, Florida barely could get the puck into the offensive zone and the one-goal hole turned into 2-0.
It swelled to 3-0 during another devastating swing for the Panthers. With 7:57 left in the second period, defenseman Gustav Forsling and Los Angeles center Alex Turcotte raced for a puck behind the Panthers own net, and Turcotte tripped Forsling behind, sending the 26-year-old Swede sliding feet first into the boards. A fracas broke out as Forsling writhed in pain, grabbing at his left leg and eventually needing help from the training staff to get off the ice.
He was, however, able to return in the third period and the Panthers got a three-minute power play out of the incident, with Turcotte receiving a five-minute major penalty for boarding and star defenseman Aaron Ekblad getting two minutes for roughing, and yet again it turned into an advantage for the Kings. Los Angeles scored a short-handed goal just one second after Ekblad exited the penalty box to push its lead to 3-0 with 10:02 left in the second period, prompting a loud chorus of boos from the frustrated crowd at FLA Live Arena.
From there, Florida put together one of its best comeback bids of the season, scoring twice in the next 6:21 to get the Kings’ lead down to 3-2 at the start of the third period. The three-goal hole, however, was too much and those two goals from left wing Ryan Lomberg and star defenseman Brandon Montour were all the Panthers could muster despite outshooting Los Angeles, 23-10, after falling behind 3-0 and 44-32 overall.
Florida finished 0 of 5 on the power play, and conceded two short-handed goals, and only scored its third after Los Angeles hit the empty net to go up 4-2 with 1:02 left.
The Panthers wrap up the first half Saturday at 6 p.m. against the Bruins (38-6-4) at FLA Live, then it’ll be a full week off for the All-Star break.
The 2023 All-Star Game, of course, will be in South Florida next weekend and two Panthers are set to play for the Atlantic Division. All-Star right wing Matthew Tkachuk was chosen for the game by the league’s department of hockey operations Jan. 5 and All-Star center Aleksander Barkov was named an injury replacement Friday after Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews had to drop out of the game.
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