Sergei Bobrovsky made 33 saves to lead the Jackets to their 10th straight win and shut out the Panthers, who still sit just one point behind New Jersey for the second wild card spot in the Eastern Conference with one game in hand.
The Panthers (37-28-7) finish their three-game road trip 2-1-0 and will now return home to host Arizona in a must-win matchup on Saturday at BB&T Center before packing their bags for a four-game stretch on the road.
"We've been a good team all year facing adversity and dealing with it and bouncing back after a game like this," Panthers coach Bob Boughner said. "We know these guys are playing extremely well. Whether we win two points against Columbus or win two points against Arizona, it doesn't matter. Points are points at this part of the season. We've got to try and get back on a roll here.
"We're going back home for one [game] before we go back on the road again, so Saturday's important. There's some lessons to be learned from this game. I think that some of the young guys got their eyes opened a little bit. This is a team that's heavy and hard and, in my mind, is ready to win. Tonight, I don't think we had 20 guys playing the hockey we need to be special successful. We had spurts, but not for long enough."
Here are five takeaways from Thursday's loss in Columbus…
1. HARD-FOUGHT FIRST
The first period of play between the Panthers and Jackets certainly had the feel of an intense playoff game, as both teams appeared to be in top form from the moment the puck dropped until the buzzer sounded.
"It was a good back-and-forth," said Panthers goaltender Roberto Luongo, who stopped 29 of 32 shots. "It was a pretty intense game."
By the end of the first 20 minutes, Florida held a slight advantage in both shots on goals (14-11) and 5-on-5 shot attempts (20-16). But when an opportunity to take the all-important 1-0 lead presented itself with just over two minutes left in the period, the Panthers were unable to capitalize.
After Vincent Trocheck took an elbow to the head, Florida was rewarded with the first power play of the night. Unfortunately, they failed to do anything with it, firing off only one shot attempt during a two-minute span with the extra attacker.
"Whoever makes the least mistakes is going to win this game tonight," Panthers forward Frank Vatrano told FOX Sport's Florida's Randy Moller during the first intermission. "We've got to keep going and play mistake-free hockey."
2. A ROUGH FIVE MINUTES
In the second period, it was the Panthers that blinked first, as their mistake-free brand of hockey devolved into an unfortunate five-minute span to start the frame in which the Jackets scored three answered goals to take a commanding lead.
Less than a minute into the period, a turnover in the neutral zone gave way to a 2-on-1 break for the Jackets that ended with Cam Atkinson blasting a one-timer into the net to give Columbus a 1-0 lead for its 14th straight game. Not long after, Sonny Milano added another, as the Jackets converted on two of their first three shots of the period to take a 2-0 lead at 3:20 of the session.
Then, after a Vatrano penalty, the Jackets finished off their offensive outburst with a power play goal from defenseman Seth Jones, who had missed the last three games due to an upper-body injury, to make it 3-0 at 5:42 of the period - ending a 24-for-24 stretch by Florida's penalty kill. "We had a mental lapse," Trocheck said. "We had a few mistakes that they capitalized on. That's the type of team they are. They capitalize on teams' mistakes. Those five minutes of the game dictated the outcome."
The Panthers have now given up 86 goals in the second period this season, which is 33 more than they've given up in the first and 10 more than they've allowed in the third.
3. POWER PLAY PROBLEMS
Although the Panthers were held off the scoresheet on Thursday night, you can't say they didn't have their chances. Florida went 0-for-4 on the power play against the Jackets - a brand new problem for a team that has been much-improved with the man advantage this season.
After boasting one of the best power plays in the league since November, the Panthers suddenly find themselves in the midst of an 0-for-14 stretch with the extra attacker. In Columbus, the power play unit had just two shots on goal.
"Our team has had a pretty good power play the whole season," Trocheck said. "These last three games it seems like we've kind of stepped off the gas a little bit and got a bit lackadaisical. Special teams are huge, especially late in the season. We need to figure that out."
Florida will look to snap out of its funk on the power play against Arizona's 14th-ranked penalty kill on Saturday.
4. BOBROSVKY STEPS UP
Whenever the Panthers did have an opportunity to score on Thursday night, Bobrovsky was there to make the save. The two-time Vezina Trophy winner stopped all 33 shots he faced to earn his fifth shutout this season.
Still, Bobrovsky wasn't tested much, as Florida had just eight high-danger scoring chances.
"He made some saves, but realistically we didn't get the quality chances that we should have and the chances that we did get we didn't capitalize on," Trocheck said." This late in the season, you need to bear down on your chances."
Bobrovsky, 29, is now 11-1-2 in his career against the Panthers.
5. DOWN TO THE WIRE
Although Thursday night's loss in Columbus is tough to swallow, the Panthers are still very much in control of their own destiny and in prime position to sneak into the playoffs if they can take care of business in the coming weeks.
Florida currently sits one point behind idle New Jersey for the second wild card spot in the Eastern Conference with one game in hand. The Panthers will host 29th-ranked Arizona on Saturday at BB&T Center, while the Devils will have to endure a brutal back-to-back set on Friday and Saturday against Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay, respectively.
Florida will play five of its remaining 10 games against teams currently holding a playoff spot, while New Jersey battles five playoff teams over its last nine. With just over three weeks remaining in the season, this race looks like it'll go down to the wire.
"We're not going to win all of them," Luongo said. "Just got to go home for one [game] and make sure we take care of business."