SUNRISE, Fla. - The Florida Panthers penalty kill has powered the club's recent run of good form.
Going into Thursday night's game, a 4-3 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes, the club was killing penalties at an impressive 90.6 percent clip since key penalty kill contributor Vincent Trocheck returned to the lineup on January 18. Excellence on special teams and a red-hot first line had made the Panthers winners of nine of their previous 13 contests.
And through the first 40 minutes of Thursday night's game, the contest followed a similar script. The Panthers killed all five penalties they were assessed, including a 5-on-3 late in the second period, and entered the second intermission with a 3-2 lead. The team's top offensive players were dynamic, once again, contributing three quick strike goals in just over four minutes on the game clock to erase a two-goal deficit after the first period.
As the parade to the penalty box continued, Florida's stellar penalty kill finally paid the price, allowing two quick power-play goals early in the third period. It was a deficit the Panthers couldn't erase, despite continuing to push and battle all the way to the final whistle.
"It's an intense game, it's an emotional game. That was the brutal part to me, to have to kill off two five-on-threes," said Panthers head coach Bob Boughner. "But we have to be more disciplined with our, we sticks… at the end of the day we played a good game, a hard game, a lot of guys battled and I thought we deserved better."
1. DID YOU SEE THAT?
Every night at BB&T Center, Panthers captain Aleksander Barkov puts on a show.
Whether he's finding his linemate Jonathan Huberdeau on their own private sonar and cracking through defensive structures, or scoring a self-nutmeg deke at full speed with a defender in his pocket - Barkov has upped his game in a major way of late. Tonight, Barkov upped the ante even further with an unprecedented backhand deflection off the shaft of his stick, which beat Petr Mrazek.
Video: CAR@FLA: Barkov shows off hand-eye on nice deflection
With nine points over his last three games, Barkov is hotter than a white sand beach in August, but he isn't doing it alone. The chemistry he's found with linemates Jonathan Huberdeau and Frank Vatrano has been crucial to his great run of form.
And don't discount the impact that the return of Vincent Trocheck has had on Barkov's energy levels and success. After logging 23:53 in ice time against the Hurricanes on Thursday - a light evening's work by Barkov's standards this season - the Panthers captain has only played more than 24 minutes on one occasion since Trocheck's return to the lineup.
"Troch came back and he's not playing 24 or 25 minutes a night anymore," said Boughner. "And you can tell he's more energized and has more juice for offense."
2. SCORING IN BUNCHES
For a second straight game the Panthers blitzed their opponent with a flurry of goals in a condensed period of time.
After managing three goals in just two minutes and 35 seconds on Tuesday against the Buffalo Sabres to the ice the game; the Panthers responded to a 2-0 first period deficit early in the second period on Thursday by scoring three unanswered in four minutes and 15 seconds against the Hurricanes.
The club's recent run of form has been driven largely by special teams excellence on both sides of the puck and the stellar potency of their top line, but there's also a certain swagger punctuating these recent Panthers' performance.
It's a swagger they'll look to tap back into when they host the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday.
3. CATS ON THE KILL
Going into Thursday night's game, the Panthers penalty kill - buoyed by the return of Trocheck to the lineup - had been ticking along at a staggering 90.6 percent kill rate since January 18. Ultimately, the weight of seven penalties was too stressful a weight to bear and the club's stratospheric success with the man disadvantage didn't last through the final 20 minutes.
While the Panthers successfully killed a pair of minor penalties in the first period and finished the night killing five of seven penalties, it wasn't enough. Carolina managed a pair of crucial power-play markers early in the third period, the second of which stood up as the game winner.
"You don't notice, but when your best players are killing, it takes a lot out of you," Panthers defenseman Keith Yandle said.
4. OH DADDY!
Before Barkov somehow put a puck past a goaltender with the shaft of his stick, it was Evgenii Dadonov who got things rolling for the Panthers.
With the Cats down 2-0 and needing a spark, Dadonov converted a lovely goal to get a three-goal second period started. It was the result of a heavy forecheck, as Jayce Hawryluk chased down a Vincent Trocheck dump in and forced a turnover behind the Hurricanes net. Getting to the puck, Hawryluk found Dadonov with a slick backhand dish to the net front, where the Russian winger was patiently waiting on Mrazek before sneaking a shot past him.
Dadonov has now scored 21 goals on the season, and is on pace to eclipse the 28-goals he managed last year for the Panthers.
Video: CAR@FLA: Dadonov capitalizes on tenacious forecheck
5. LEGACY SATURDAY
This Saturday marks the final Legacy Saturday night of the Panthers' 25th Anniversary season.
When the club hosts Los Angeles at BB&T Center on Saturday at 5 p.m., Panthers alumnus and the franchise's all-time games played leader Stephen Weiss will be honored for what he contributed to the club during his lengthy Cats tenure. It's an appropriate day for Weiss to be dropping the puck, since this Saturday marks the seven year anniversary of Weiss playing in his 614th game as a Panther, a milestone appearance which cemented Weiss in the record books as the longest tenured cat.
Weiss was a mainstay in South Florida for over a decade. A proud Panther, the native of Toronto, Ontario holds the franchise records for games played (654), assists (249) and is second all-time in point (394).
A heart and soul player for the Panthers, Weiss stuck by the organization despite enduring a decade-long postseason drought that hung heavily over the team. That is, until the epic success of the 2011-12 season, when Weiss helped lead the Panthers to the franchise's first-ever division title and the club's first playoff berth in 12 years. In that season, Weiss was a key cog in the team's offense, anchoring the first line and producing 57 points (20-37-57).