"That was definitely not starting on time," Panthers coach Joel Quenneville said. "You can't blame it on anything, not being ready. … It was a huge deficit to try and overcome. … It was one of those games, a garbage can game, for me. The first one of the year. Let's move on."
Like Quenneville said, the opening of the game wasn't very pretty. Playing from behind before fans even took their seats, the Panthers surrendered goals to Nick Robertson and Joel L'Esperance at 1:00 and 1:49, respectively to fall into a 2-0 hole. Extending the Stars' lead to 3-0, Jamie Benn then beat Sergei Bobrovsky on the man advantage at 9:03.
"Those are not the starts we want to have, but it happened," Panthers defenseman Radko Gudas said. "We want to be better from the drop of the puck, but I think we did some right things and deserved a couple better bounces. We haven't been getting them lately."
While the Cats did play better from that point on, most of the damage had already been done.
Helping the Panthers get on the board in the second period, Aleksander Barkov took two whacks at the puck before sending it past Anton Khudobin and into the net on the power play with just over a second left on the clock to make it 3-1 heading into the second intermission.
Looking to build off that goal in the third period, Robertson took the wind out of Florida's sails when he picked a corner from the slot for his second goal of the game to make it 4-1 at 1:21.
Between the pipes, Khudobin stopped 20 of 21 shots, while Bobrovsky made 16 saves.
With some time to gather themselves and regroup, the Panthers, who remain in a great spot with a record of 26-12-4 despite dropping their last three games, will now have two days off before closing out their two-game set with the Stars, whose record currently sits at 15-14-10.
Riding high all season long, there's no reason to believe this isn't more than just a bump in the road.
"We have a few days to regroup and bring a lot more energy into the next game," Gudas said. "We want to make sure that we don't lose like that no more."
Here are five takeaways from Saturday's loss in Dallas…
1. A TOUGH FIRST
The Stars were up 3-0 before the Panthers registered their first shot on goal.
From that point on, however, the game was played even as both teams netted one goal each.
"They started really well, and we didn't start the way we wanted," Barkov said. "They got a couple quick goals and got the lead early. They played confident with that. It wasn't a good start by us. Obviously, were not happy with the whole game."
While it's hard to come back against any team, the Stars do a particularly good job of clamping things down once they get a lead. Following their win this afternoon, they are now 8-2-2 when leading after the first period this season and 13-1-2 when carrying a lead into the third period.
"We've got to find a way to win these types of games," Barkov said. "These games feel like they're playoff games. We've got to find a way to win these. We've got a good chance next game."
Just as it was in Raleigh on Thursday, the action was tight at even-strength today.
Looking at some of the key numbers at 5-on-5, the Panthers finished with advantages over the Stars in shot attempts (48-33) and shots on goal (16-15). They also ended up tied in scoring chances (20-20) and trailed in high-danger shot attempts (10-8), per NaturalStatTrick.com.
Despite those shot attempts, Barkov believes the Cats are a bit too "one and done" right now.
"I think we had a lot of shot attempts, but they just weren't getting through to the net," Barkov said. "They block a lot of shots. [We need to] just do a better job of getting to the net and getting second chances, recovering pucks from the net. That was our strength the whole season."
Also helping keep the Panthers off the board was another strong showing from Khudobin.
Entering this afternoon's matchup with a 1-1-1 record and .951 save percentage against Florida this season, the 34-year-old veteran stood tall in net once again. Stopping 20 of 21 shots, his lone blemish came while shorthanded as he turned aside all 16 shots he faced at even-strength.
"He's played really well in the net for them," Gudas said of Khudobin. "He's been rock solid for them back there. We had some looks, but I think we just couldn't connect today."
3. BEATING THE BUZZER
While it didn't alter the end result, another goal for Barkov is a good sign.
Lighting the lamp for the fourth time in five games since returning from a lower-body injury, the Panthers captain got his team on the board when he followed up on his own rebound and sent the puck across the goal line with under two seconds left in the second period to make it 3-1.
Video: FLA@DAL: Barkov nets PPG with 1.5 seconds left in 2nd
"We've just got to work," Barkov said. "We've got to play better than we have been."
Taking over sole possession of first place on Florida's scoring leaderboard, Barkov is now up to 43 points through 36 games. Touching the twine at an incredible pace as of late, the 25-year-old has also scored nine goals over his last 11 games to move into a tie for first on the club with 17.
4. DUCLAIR GETTING CLOSE
The Panthers could soon be getting a boost on offense in the form of Anthony Duclair.
Last suiting up on March 30, the speedy forward could potentially be back in the lineup as early as Tuesday's rematch with the Stars after missing the last six games with an upper-body injury.
"I think there's a chance he's going to play next game," Quenneville said this morning.
Spending the majority of his time this season on Florida's top line alongside Barkov and Carter Verhaeghe, Duclair has recorded 16 points (four goals, 12 assists) in 29 games. A very strong possession player, his 56.66 CF% at 5-on-5 also ranks third on the team, per NaturalStatTrick.com.
"He adds a nice ingredient," Quenneville said of Duclair. "That line has really added some speed to our lineup. He really does take the puck to the net. He gives us one more guy, one more option. In his absence, Marchy [Mason Marchment] has done a nice job in that spot."
5. NEW CAT ON THE BLOCK
The Panthers were cranking out the paperwork prior to puck drop this afternoon.
Making already their third deal ahead of Monday's looming trade deadline, the Cats beefed up their blue line a bit by acquiring defenseman Brandon Montour -- a former second-round pick of the Ducks in 2014 -- from the Sabres in exchange for a third-round pick in the 2021 NHL Draft.
"I know he's a pretty skilled defenseman," Barkov said of Montour. "He can help us with the puck and the offensive game. He moves the puck pretty well. A good addition and I'm looking forward to seeing him soon."
A high-upside, low-risk move, Montour had produced 14 points (five goals, nine assists) while skating an average of 20:32 in 38 games with Buffalo this season. Prior to being traded to the Sabres in 2019, the 26-year-old had posted 16 goals and 47 assists in 169 games in Anaheim.
Not tying up any future cap space with the move, Montour, a former teammate of Panthers forward Frank Vatrano at U-Mass, is set to become an unrestricted free agent this summer.