"The first half of the game, I thought we were the better team," Panthers coach Bob Boughner said. "I thought we had a lot of compete, a lot of urgency. It was a frustrating game."
The Panthers took a 2-1 lead into the third period, where it took Edmonton only 38 seconds to tie the game when Connor McDavid wasted no time in finding the back of the net for his 34th goal of the season. From there, the Oilers added a goal from Adam Larsson at 6:13 before Ty Rattie iced the game with an empty netter in the final minute.
"It's something about our start to the period," Panthers center Vincent Trocheck said. "We've let up a lot of goals early in the period, first shift in periods, lately. I think it's just a matter of preparation and being prepared every time you go out onto the ice."
With the loss, Florida (35-27-7) now trails New Jersey by three points with one game in hand for the second wild card spot in the Eastern Conference. The Panthers also sit four points behind both Philadelphia and Columbus for the first wild card spot with two games in hand.
After a 9-2-1 stretch at home, the Panthers will now play seven of their next eight games on the road.
"If we bring what we did in the first part of the game to the road trip, we're going to be fine," Boughner said. "There's some games there we know we have to win. But we can't afford to play like we did in the second half of the third period there. That's the difference in our identity and how we play."
Here are five takeaways from Saturday's loss in Sunrise…
1. A PHYSICAL FIRST PERIOD
Physical play highlighted the first period of Saturday afternoon's tilt. Florida and Edmonton combined for 12 hits through the first 20 minutes of play, with Panthers defenseman MacKenzie Weegar dishing out a team-high three body checks.
With both teams establishing a physical tenor early on, it didn't take long for tempers to boil over, as a big hit from Micheal Haley on Zack Kassian along the boards resulted in Haley dropping the gloves with Oilers forward Jujhar Khaira. The two-man tussle was Haley's league-leading 21st fight of the season - eight more than the next-highest player.
The Panthers lead the league with 45 fights, which is their most since the 2009-10 season. Still, despite all of the bumps and bruises, Florida looked fairly dominant in the first period, leading Edmonton 19-17 in shot attempts and 5-2 in high-danger chances at 5-on-5.
2. VATRANO ON THE FLY
In the second period, those shot attempts finally paid off for the Panthers, as Frank Vatrano used his speed to break the ice.
After a turnover at Florida's blue line, the 24-year-old turned on the jets and raced up center ice all alone. Rather than staying back in his net, Oilers goaltender Cam Talbot opted to come out and challenge the breakaway, charging all the way up the slot and past the circles. In hindsight, it probably wasn't the best move as Vatrano, unphased by Talbot's bold decision, simply skated around the sprawled out netminder before firing the puck into an empty net to put the Panthers up 1-0 at 8:02 of the second period.
The goal was Vatrano's fourth of the season, but second in four games since joining Florida. Acquired in a pre-deadline deal with Boston, Vatrano had just two goals in 25 games this season while playing primarily in a bottom-six role for the Bruins. Given an opportunity on the second line with the Panthers, he's already found the back of the net twice in four games.
Video: EDM@FLA: Vatrano beats Talbot to puck, hits open net
3. TRO GETS MO!
After Ryan Nugent-Hopkins scored for Edmonton to make it a 1-1 game, Trocheck quickly put the Panthers back on top.
The 24-year-old center scored his team-leading 28th goal of the season a little over four minutes after Nugent-Hopkins' tally, taking a nice pass from Derek MacKenzie and lifting a shot past Talbot to put Florida up 2-1 at 15:54 of the second period. With the goal, Trocheck extended his point streak to six games (4-5-9), which matches his season high.
In addition to leading the Panthers in goals, Trocheck ranks second on the team in points (65), fourth in assists (38) and first in shots (241). "I feel like we have a good team, and when we play the way we can we win a lot of games," Trocheck said. "I don't think we're pleased with tonight the way we played. I think we should be that team; if we played our game we would. It's just a matter of coming to every game like it's a playoff games now."
Video: EDM@FLA: Vatrano beats Talbot to puck, hits open net
4. LUONGO NOT HAPPY
There were two goals on Saturday afternoon that Roberto Luongo said he wants back.
The first came from Nugent-Hopkins, who snuck a shorthanded goal past Luongo at 11:09 of the second period. "It was just a bad goal," Luongo said. "I don't know what happened exactly. It went underneath my glove. It's a bad goal. There's no excuse for it. That shouldn't go in ever."
The next one proved to be even more costly, as a shot from Larsson bounced off Luongo and into the net for what proved to be the eventual game-winning goal at 6:13 of the third period. "It went off my heel and between my legs," Luongo said. "Again, another goal that's my fault."
Entering the game, the 38-year-old netminder had been playing some of the best hockey of his career, posting a 7-1-1 record with a 2.73 goals-against average, a .921 save percentage and one shutout over his last nine starts. Still, Luongo said his performance against the Oilers stings. "Needless to say, I don't feel too good about myself after tonight," he said. "I feel like I cost the team a win here."
5. CAN'T CAPITALIZE
The Panthers entered Saturday afternoon's tilt with the second most potent power play in the league since Feb. 5. Over a dominant six-week stretch, the Panther converted on 17-of-54 (31.5 percent) of their opportunities with the man advantage. Yet, somehow, against Edmonton's 30th ranked penalty kill, Florida was unable to convert, going 0-for-6 with the extra attacker.
"We just couldn't get it into the zone," Trocheck said of the power play. "We just weren't executing enough."
The Panthers had 11 shots on goal with the man advantage, but couldn't sneak one past Talbot. Boughner cited trouble in the faceoff circle as one of the key reasons for the power play struggling to get off the ground, as the team lost several key draws in the offensive zone.
Before Saturday, Florida had registered at least one power-play goal in five of its last six games. "I think our power play was the difference tonight," Boughner said. "We had many chances to go up 3-1, and we didn't. When you let teams stick around like that, that's what happens."
BONUS: SAVE OF THE YEAR?
"It was definitely a save-of-the-year candidate and one of the best saves I've ever seen," Trocheck of Luongo's incredible stick save in the video below.
Video: EDM@FLA: Luongo lunges for incredible stick save