'Comeback Cats' strike back! Panthers rally past Devils to take control of playoff destiny

David Wilson, Miami Herald on

Published in Hockey

SUNRISE, Fla. — Matthew Tkachuk whirled around in search of someone to celebrate with. His goal — a beautiful masterclass of stick work and finesse around the crease — had punctuated a rapid-fire comeback for the Florida Panthers and pulled them from the verge of a potentially frustrating loss to the New Jersey Devils to the brink of a thrilling victory.

The All-Star right wing eventually found an open patch of ice, dropped to his knees and pumped his right fist. His teammates mobbed him and the FLA Live Arena crowd roared. The Panthers were on their way to a 4-2 win and one of their best come-from-behind victories of the season.

Florida was down 2-0 at the end of the second period and entirely wasted a dominant opening frame. The Panthers had conceded a short-handed goal and a wonky rebound goal on a play they believed should have been blown dead. In the span of 2:30, Florida erased it all.

All-Star center Aleksander Barkov scored on a rebound with 13:46 remaining to cut the Devils’ lead to 2-1. Forward Sam Reinhart scored 1:40 later — just six seconds into a power play — to tie the game. Tkachuk finished off the comeback and put the Panthers ahead 3-2 with 11:16 to go.

Reinhart sealed the win with an empty-net goal in the final minute.

The “Comeback Cats” are back and just in the nick of time.

After spending most of the season as the worst comeback teams in the NHL, Florida has come-from-behind wins in three of its last four games. In the other, the Panthers also rallied to force overtime and get a point before losing to the Jets. They now have 11 total come-from-behind wins, pulling themselves out of the cellar, and three multi-goal comebacks. In the last two weeks, they’ve looked more like they did last year, when they set an NHL record for come-from-behind wins in a season.


This was one they deserved. Even when it was down, Florida was mostly in command, especially for the first period.

The Panthers had 15 shots in the first 15 minutes and 19 by the end of the period with 1.48 expected goals, and yet went into the first intermission without anything tangible to show for it. Even a power play in the first few minutes of the second period went terribly wrong, with New Jersey scoring a short-handed goal to take a 1-0 lead with 17:44 left in the period.

Less than six minutes later, Devils forward Jesper Boqvist scored after a scramble around the net — Florida thought play should’ve been stopped after a puck hit defenseman Marc Staal in the head and star goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky made a spectacular lunge to sweep it off the goal line — and the Panthers fell into the two-goal hole it has had so much trouble overcoming this year.

Their talent makes them explosive, though, and they got two assists from star defenseman Brandon Montour and two from forward Carter Verhaeghe to quickly pull off the comeback.

The win is an important one. New Jersey is a Stanley Cup contender and Florida stole away two points to win 5 of 7 — and get points in 6 of 7 — on its longest homestand of the year. For the moment, the Panthers moved within a point of a wild card and they keep control of their own destiny, with fewer games played than the eighth-place Islanders.

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