Florida Panthers Get Their First Real Test of Adversity This Season

I’ll admit, Florida Panther fans in this specific season have been a bit spoiled with all the winning this season. Starting 6-0-2 before losing their first regulation game, finishing in 2nd place in the Central Division, and having home-ice advantage in round one, and more importantly, most of Bill Zito’s acquisitions since taking over the front office have panned out to this point. That’s not to say that the Cats have not had their share of adversity this season.

Just on the top of my head, the adversity that the Panthers have had this season go as follows:

  • Multiple 2+ goal deficits in road games against the Columbus Blue Jackets and coming back to win(1/26 and 3/11)
  • A questionable challenge by Coach Q against Nashville on 2/4 that lead to a loss
  • Down multiple scores twice in their only 2 wins against Carolina on 2/17 and 4/24, which they finished 2-4-2 against them.
  • Aleksander Barkov getting injured in warmups against Chicago on 3/23 and being out for a little over a week and the team goes on a 3-game skid(1 to Tampa, 2 to Chicago) which luckily the Cats have not lost more than 3 game in a row this season, the other time was between 4/6-4/10(2 to CAR, 1 to DAL).
  • Aaron Ekblad fracturing his leg on a Sunday road game against the Dallas Stars towards the end board 3/28, and has not been back since.

However, the level of adversity now for this specific Florida Panthers team is at its highest heading into game 2 of the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. They lost home-ice advantage after dropping game 1, against a team that the Cats went 5-2-1 against in the regular season in the Tampa Bay Lightning. Sure, as mentioned on Locked On Panthers that Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos are back, and that the Bolts used about $17M on LTIR. Again, we can complain all we want, but that’s the name of the game, nobody broke any rules. Don’t hate the player(or the front office), hate the game. Florida went into this series confident as well because they are really the only team who have dominated against the 2019 Vezina Trophy winner in Andrei Vasilevskiy, where Vasy is 2-4-0 against the Cats this season and his GAA is over a goal worse against Florida than any other team this season. This isn’t to say that they are not confident now going into game 2, because the Panthers put up 4 against Vasilevskiy in game 1(Barkov, Huberdeau, Verhaeghe, and Tippett).

Not only is losing game 1 the test of adversity, but they are going into game 2(tonight at 8pm on CNBC and Bally Sports) without their 2nd line Center in Sam Bennett, the former 4th overall pick in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft who the Panthers traded 2020 2nd Rounder Emil Heineman and a future 2nd round pick for. Sam Bennett at 12:19 of the 3rd period of game 1 was called for a charging penalty against Blake Coleman, which was more of retaliation after what looked to be a hit earlier on Aleksander Barkov which Bennett took exception to. The initial penalty call was the right call, unfortunately, led to the game-tying goal by no other than Brayden Point at 13:00 to make it 4-4 at the time. I don’t think Bennett should have been suspended though, and whether he deserves to be suspended or not is a discussion we can have all day because nobody knows what is suspension worthy anymore, just ask Tom Wilson of the Washington Capitals.

So you lose home ice and your 2nd line center for game 2. These are not easy circumstances for the Florida Panthers as they try to tie this series at one before heading up alligator alley to play the Lightning in Tampa starting on Thursday. Tom McLean(host of the Panther Parkway Podcast) and I discussed what the forward lines could look like and who could crack the lineup for Game 2 as the Florida Panthers attempt to tie the series at 1.



Vatrano- Luostarinen-Hornqvist


Why this one? After discussing with Tom and originally saying Acciari could make his way to 2C, we thought about this, the line combination listed is one very similar(not exact) to what the Panthers had at the beginning of the season when they came right out of the gates hot and surprised the hockey world. Sure, Luostarinen has had trouble cracking the lineup since the acquisition of Sam Bennett, but let’s not forget he is also a developing player, and the Panthers have gone mostly to their veterans after the trade deadline to carry them on what is hopefully a long playoff run. It could be time for a young prospect who makes an impact on a lineup like he was able to early in the season. One of his strengths is putting opponents in bad positions to draw penalties, and in-game 1 where there were 3 PPG’s, a shorty and an even-strength, the Cats should do anything they can to get any advantage they can. I mean, they fought for home-ice advantage in the regular-season series finale and then dropped game 1, but that’s not to say they can’t get it back with tying the series tonight and getting a road win at Amalie Arena, but if putting in a player who helps give you that man advantage, I say put him out there. Winning a championship in the NHL requires great special teams, but you also have to get there as well, Eetu could help in that category. There are also the options of Juho Lammikko, Aleksi Heponiemi.

Coach Quenneville can also go with the experience of a Lucas Wallmark, who was covering the 4th line Center position for a bit when he was acquired via trade(for the 2nd year in a row, last time with Carolina) from the Chicago Blackhawks during this year’s trade deadline. Again, Q likes to give the youngsters a chance, but there is also a trust factor and I could also see him going with Wallmark as well knowing that he has acquired him in two different seasons at the trade deadline, and when one guy goes out, you can insert him right in.

Update: Juho Lammikko will be inserted into the lineup today for the Cats in Sam Bennett’s absence. Acciari moved up to 3C, and Wennberg to 2C.

As mentioned on Locked On Panthers, I am not concerned about Sergei Bobrovsky going into game 2. I thought he played quite well and kept the Panthers in the game, for the most part, 3 power-play goals and both the shorty and the even-strength goal were on breakaway attempts where it was just Bob and the opposing player, and lots of times, the skater is likely going to win that battle. So I stick with him in game 2, unless Coach Q says otherwise, but if the Cats get down early, you have to pull the plug. It’s desperation time for the Cats, where they do not want to go down 0-2 after having the first 2 games at home, in what is their biggest test of adversity to this point of the season.

Update: Chris Driedger will start in net for the Florida Panthers tonight. Today also happens to be his birthday, so Happy Birthday to Driegs, though I was okay with Bobrovsky starting, I do not have an issue with this either. The Panthers have a good problem at goalie, something we have preached all season.

Thanks for reading this article! You can follow along with Panther Parkway @pantherparkway on Twitter! You can also follow our writers: @FrankRekas,@Mandoman12, @JacobWinans8, @Spencer_hoag, @prudentia0, @Mister_Joester! Make sure to follow and listen to the Panther Parkway Podcast(@PantherParkway) with Tom McLean and Jacob Winans, and the Locked On Panthers Podcast(@LO_FlaPanthers) with Armando Velez. All images unless otherwise noted are courtesy of @KimSmithImages