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5 Takeaways: Driedger Strong in Return as Panthers Fall to Bruins in OT

by Jameson Olive / @JamesonCoop / FloridaPanthers.com

3/5/20 Post Game Interviews

3/5/20 Post Game Interviews

Interviews with Head Coach Joel Quenneville, defenseman MacKenzie Weegar and goaltender Chris Driedger.

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SUNRISE, Fla. - Manning the crease for the first time since suffering a lower-body injury back on Jan. 17, goaltender Chris Driedger stopped 26 of 28 shots to backstop the Florida Panthers to a crucial point in a 2-1 overtime loss to the Boston Bruins at BB&T Center on Thursday night.

"It was just good to get out there and get back into game-mode," Driedger said.

Following a scoreless albeit very eventful first period, MacKenzie Weegar broke the ice for the Panthers when he hammered a long one-timer from just below the blue line through traffic that flew past Jaroslav Halak and into the back of the net to make it 1-0 at 6:55 of the second period.

At 11:00, Patrice Bergeron evened things up for the Bruins when he tipped in a shot from Torey Krug on the man advantage past Driedger to make it 1-1 heading into the second intermission.

After being outshot 12-4 in the first period, Florida held a 19-17 advantage after the second.

"A lot of good things tonight," Panthers coach Joel Quenneville said. "I thought we got better after the first. I tought we were still all right. A good second period. In the third period with the game on the line, we had some chances and they had their turns. It was a pretty even game."

With neither goaltender giving up an inch in the third period, the game went to overtime, where Krug wired home a slap shot from beyond the circles at 4:08 to send the Bruins to a 2-1 victory.

At 43-13-12, Boston currently owns the best record in the Eastern Conference.

"It honestly felt like a playoff game," Driedger said of the atmosphere in the arena and on the ice. "Two really hardworking teams. Watching a lot of games, this one was one of our better efforts, for sure. It's a bit tough to have it not go our way, but I think we're going to build off this."

In picking up a critical point, the Panthers (33-26-8) climbed to within four points of the Toronto Maple Leafs (35-24-8), who play in Los Angeles tonight, for third place in the Atlantic Division.

"All of the confidence and positivity from [the coaches], even after tough losses, has been huge for us," Weegar said of the team's playoff push. "After a game like that, we can build off a lot of things. It sucks right now, but tomorrow morning we'll get back on the ice and move forward."

Here are five takeaways from Thursday's overtime loss in Sunrise…

1. WEEGAR'S BIG NIGHT

Weegar was all over the ice against the Bruins tonight.

In addition to breaking up odd-man rushes, throwing hits and blocking shots, he also opened the scoring for the Panthers when he blasted a powerful one-timer through traffic and past Halak -- who was being screen by Lucas Wallmark -- to make it a 1-0 game at 6:55 of the second period. 

Video: BOS@FLA: Weegar buries one-timer through traffic

"Weegs [Weegar] was outstanding tonight," Quenneville said of the 26-year-old defenseman. "He had it going. He broke up a couple plays defensively, was quick in the puck area. He joined several attacks, made a great shot -- one-timer -- did everything you want."

Despite missing an extended period of time due to an upper-body injury, Weegar has managed to set new career-highs in both goals (6) and points (17) in 43 games this season. Never afraid to throw the body, he's had at least one hit in each of his last 20 games, including two tonight.

"I felt good," said Weegar, who also posted three blocks against the Bruins. "I thought we had a few days rest and we were talking about having a little bit more physicality and a little more bite to our game. I thought everybody did that tonight. We were going to the net, being physical."

2. WALLY WORLD

Wallmark is heading home with a milestone puck tonight.

By picking up the secondary assist on Weegar's goal, the 24-year-old forward earned his first point with the Panthers since being acquired from Carolina at last week's NHL Trade Deadline.

"We had a good shift there," Wallmark told FOX Sports Florida's Jessica Blaylock during the second intermission. "We finally got some traffic in front of [Halak]. We have to build on that."

Suiting up in just his fifth game as a member of the Panthers, Wallmark also recorded one hit, one takeaway and went 4-for-8 in the faceoff circle against Boston. In 65 games this season split between Florida and Carolina, he's recorded 24 points (12 goals, 12 assists) and 57 hits.

"I feel better out there, more comfortable today," Wallmark said.

To hear more from Wallmark on his transition, check out his interview on Territory Talk below!

3. DRIEDGER DOESN'T SKIP A BEAT

Driedger showed no signs of rust against the Bruins tonight.

Competing in his first game with the Panthers since suffering a lower-body injury during a 4-3 win over Los Angeles on Jan. 16, the 25-year-old looked calm and collected while stopping 26 of 28 shots against the Bruins, including turning aside four of five shots from high-danger areas.

"He was really good," Quenneville said. "He was square. He was comfortable. He was patient. He looked big in the net. He did everything we were hoping for him to do. It was good to see him back in the net there."

Prior to being knocked out of the lineup, Driedger was having a breakout season with the Cats, going 5-2-0 with a stellar .932 save percentage, 2.35 goals-against average and one shutout. In preparation for his return, he made one rehab start with the club's AHL affiliate in Springfield.

"A little bit of extra preparation going into it," Driedger said. "I've been on the ice for a few weeks now, skating with Tally [Panthers goaltending coach Robb Tallas]. I got in a lot of work and went down to Springfield and played a game there, so that definitely helped. It's good to get back."

4. FREE FROM DANGER

Weegar described tonight's game as one of Florida's best defensive showings of the season.

And, looking at the numbers, he's certainly got a point.

Helping make Driedger's life a bit easier in his return, the Panthers held the Bruins to just 18 scoring chances and seven high-danger shot attempts, according to NaturalStatTrick.com - a performance that is even more impressive when you remember Boston had four power plays.

"At the beginning of the year there were a few goals that went in off of rebounds and what-not like that," Weegar said. "We're cleaning that up. We cleaned that up tonight. We didn't give them too much. [The Bruins] are obviously a great team with a lot of offensive power. I think we did a great job defensively."

Entering tonight's matchup, Boston had scored the sixth-most goals in the league (220).

"It was unbelievable, especially against a team like that," Driedger said of the defensive effort in front of him. "They're obviously at the top of the league. To go out there and play like that, we can't take anything away from our effort tonight. I thought we played great. It's just not the result that we wanted at the end."

5. SATURDAY SHOWDOWN

With 15 games left on their schedule, the Panthers will now look ahead to Saturday.

In addition to hosting the Montreal Canadiens in a must-win matchup, the organization will also honor former goaltender Roberto Luongo by raising his No. 1 jersey into the rafters. The first player in franchise history to have his number retired, the ceremony is slated to begin at 5 p.m.

A veteran of 19 seasons in the NHL, Luongo closed out his career this past summer ranking second in games played by a goaltender (1,044), third in wins (489) and ninth in shutouts (77).

"I think everyone can build off [tonight]," Weegar said.

For tickets to the game, visit FloridaPanthers.com/Tickets.

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