SUNRISE, Fla. - The Florida Panthers saw one of their best first periods of the season squandered in a 4-2 loss to the Minnesota Wild at BB&T Center on Tuesday night.
Leading 2-0 after the first period, the Panthers surrendered four unanswered goals over the final two periods to the Wild, which extended its winning streak to four games and point streak to 10.
"It's one of those games that you look back after and you get what you deserve," Panthers coach Joel Quenneville said. "I thought we were playing the perfect game, but then we got away from doing what makes us successful."
Aleksander Barkov broke the ice against the Wild tonight, beating Kaapo Kahkonen with a wrist shot from the left circle to give the Panthers a 1-0 lead at 9:54 of the first period. Less than five minutes later, Jonathan Huberdeau extended the lead to 2-0 with a quick wrist shot at 14:26.
In the second period, the Wild struck back.
At 9:26, Jason Zucker capitalized on a turnover, skated up the ice and beat Chris Driedger with a backhand shot on a breakaway to cut Minnesota's deficit to 2-1 at 9:26. Evening up the game soon after, Mats Zuccarello picked a corner from inside the right circle to make it 2-2 at 12:56.
Carson Soucy gave the Wild its first lead of the night at 4:49 of the third period, slipping what ended up being the game-winning goal through Driedger's five-hole. With 1:01 remaining in regulation, Luke Kunin put the game away when he made it 4-2 with a long empty-net goal.
Kahkonen stopped 44 of 46 shots, while Driedger made 22 saves.
"We just got away from the things we did in the first period," Barkov said. "We started turning over pucks, and that's the result. As a team you've got to keep playing simple, run them down in their zone, and we didn't do that in the second and the third period. We didn't do enough."
Here are five takeaways from Tuesday's loss in Sunrise…
1. BARKOV NETS ANOTHER
Kahkonen never saw this one coming.
With the Panthers on the power play, Huberdeau dug in near the top of the crease and blinded the Wild's goaltender with a perfect screen. Capitalizing on the opportunity, Barkov then ripped a shot from the left circle that found the back of the net to make it 1-0 at 9:54 of the first period.
Video: MIN@FLA: Barkov wires home wrist shot for PPG
"It was a good goal," Barkov said. "We had a couple good chances before and then finally got the one."
Ranking fourth on the Panthers in goals (9) and second in points (32), Barkov has been flooding the scoresheet in recent weeks. Over his last 15 games, the 23-year-old center has tallied nine goals and 10 assists. Of those goals, a team-high five have come while on the power play.
In the faceoff dot, Barkov went 13-for-21 (62 percent) against the Wild.
2. HUBERDEAU KEEPS CLIMBING
Not long after the aforementioned screen, it was Huberdeau's turn to score.
Taking a pass from Frank Vatrano, Huberdeau wired a wrist shot from the left circle over Kahkonen's right shoulder and into the twine to double Florida's early lead to 2-0 at 14:26 of the first period.
Video: MIN@FLA: Huberdeau beats Kahkonen from the circle
Finishing the night with two points, Huberdeau has now claimed sole possession of the team-scoring lead with 33 points. Sitting second on the team in both goals (11) and assists (22), the 26-year-old winger has, like Barkov, been hot lately, notching 20 points over his last 15 games.
Huberdeau now needs just two points to tie Stephen Weiss (394) for the second-most in franchise history.
3. A STRONG START
Highlighted by a pair of goals, the Panthers couldn't have asked for a much better first period.
In addition to entering the first intermission with a 12-5 advantage in shots, Florida also held the Wild to just two shots on goal over the final 14 minutes of the period. Controlling the possession battle, they owned a solid 21-13 advantage in shot attempts, according to NaturalStatTrick.com.
"That's our game plan," Barkov said. "We've got to stay on the pucks in the offensive zone."
But over the final 40 minutes, like Quenneville said, the Panthers got away from what had been working so well in the opening frame, surrendering 21 shots on goal and 10 scoring chances.
"We started to get sloppy at the blue lines, started to turn the puck over," Panthers defenseman MacKenzie Weegar said. "We know that we can play offense. It's just been kind of the story this year, we've been giving up too many chances. In the second and third, we did that."
4. FACEOFF KINGS
While it didn't factor into the end result tonight, Florida's recent success in the faceoff circle should result in more than a few points down the road.
By winning 58 percent of their draws against Minnesota, the Panthers have now gone eleven straight games without losing the faceoff battle. All four of the team's center finished above 50 percent in the circle, with Barkov leading the way with a game-high 62 percent success rate.
In November, Florida's faceoff win percentage of 54.9 led the league.
"That starts the play," Panthers center Brian Boyle, who leads the team in faceoff win percentage (57.1), said after today's morning skate. "It dictates where the play is going to go right off the bat. There's so many of them in the game. It's tough to gain an edge. It's usually around 50 [percent]. If you can get a little higher than that, you're in a good spot."
5. WORKING FOR THE WEEKEND
The Panthers will now have a practice days to prepare for a big weekend.
With two games down and six still left to play on their franchise-record, nine-game homestand, the team will next welcome the Columbus Blue Jackets and San Jose Sharks to BB&T Center on Saturday and Sunday, respectively.
At 13-9-5, Florida currently occupies second place in the Atlantic Division.
"We have a long time to sit on this game," Weegar said. "We're going to regroup here this week and bounce back. I think every game is big now. We've done a good job of responding, so I'm not too worried about it."
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