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GIF Breakdown: Panthers At Their Best in Final Minutes vs. Blues

by Jameson Olive / @JamesonCoop / FloridaPanthers.com

In the waning minutes of regulation, every second felt like an eternity.

Holding onto a slim 2-1 lead when the St. Louis Blues opted to pull their goaltender in favor of the extra attacker with 2:31 left on the clock at Enterprise Center on Monday night, the Florida Panthers knew they simply couldn't risk giving up a goal and letting the game go to overtime.

At this point in the season, every point is too valuable to leave anything up to chance.

So with a key faceoff coming up in their own zone against the defending Stanley Cup Champions, Panthers coach Joel Quenneville deployed the five players he trusted most to get the job done: Noel Acciari, Frank Vatrano, MacKenzie Weegar, Aaron Ekblad and captain Aleksander Barkov.

From that draw until the final buzzer, the Panthers were relentless in their defense of the lead.

Not only did they keep St. Louis off the board to secure a season-altering win, they didn't even allow a single shot to reach goaltender Chris Driedger. Over that final heart-stopping 2:31, they put it all on the line, winning two faceoffs, blocking seven shots and icing the puck three times.

"In the last couple minutes, we got the job done," Quenneville said.

By virtue of those icings, players were pushed to the absolute edge. Neither Ekblad or Weegar ever left the ice, while Barkov, Acciari and Vatrano received only quick breathers. And when it was time for others to tag in, both Erik Haula and Colton Sceviour provided much-needed relief.

But when the final second ticked off the clock, they all still had plenty of breath left to cheer.

"It was obviously a huge game for us," Weegar said with a smile. "Those huge minutes are what you want. You have the full trust from your teammates and coaches to go out there and do the job. I thought everybody did that. It was a desperate [win]. Everybody was blocking shots."

Clawing their way back into the playoff race by going 2-0-1 over their last three contests, Florida's late-game heroics in St. Louis appear to be more of a culmination of a newfound commitment to more of a shared defense-first mentality rather than just a blip on the radar.

And although Driedger, who's stopped 85 of 89 shots for a .955 save percentage in that three-game span, has been outstanding, the play in front of the net has also tightened up quite a bit, which was evident against the Blues as 11 different Panthers laid out to block at least one shot.

"I don't know if I've ever seen a shot-blocking effort that was that good," Driedger said. "We have the same guys every night just laying their body down on the line -- Weegs, Straly, Ekie, Acch. The list goes on and on. It was a pretty incredible effort by those guys tonight."

Sitting just one point behind the Toronto Maple Leafs (35-25-9) for third place in the Atlantic Division with 13 games left in the regular season -- including one head-to-head matchup -- the Panthers (35-26-8) could one day look back at their 2:31 against the Blues as a turning point.

So, using some helpful GIFS, here's four key moments from that memorable ending in St. Louis.

1. WEEGAR'S BLOCK (2:23)

The Panthers finished with 23 blocked shots, but none were bigger than this one.

Following a faceoff win from Acciari, David Perron batted down a clearing attempt from Ekblad along the right boards that somehow ended up right on the stick of Jason Schwartz. Skating in on the net, Schwartz then sent a pass back to Brayden Schenn, who was wide-open in the slot.

Time stood still for a second as everyone held their collective breath.

But just as Schenn dropped down to one knee to let loose a one-timer, Weegar extended each of his limbs out as far as he could and managed to catch a piece of the shot with what appeared to be part of his left leg, sending the puck flying harmlessly into the glass behind Florida's cage.

"Everyone's been playing with a little bit more will and a little bit more urgency," said Weegar, who led the Cats with five blocks against the Blues. "That's what we need at this time of year."

2. EATING UP THE CLOCK (1:03)

When every second matters, even seemingly little plays can go a long way.

Pressuring Perron along the boards, Barkov, despite being physically exhausted, used all 6-foot-3, 210-pound frame to separate the Blues forward form the puck. And after Perron lost control, Haula, who had gotten a step on Ryan O'Reilly, swooped in to make the clutch clear. 

Moving forward, that short sequence proved to have an important lingering aftereffect.

Attempting to get right back into the zone and reset, Colton Parayko rimmed the puck along the boards back into the far right corner. Waiting for it, however, was Ekblad, who then won a battle with Schenn for the loose rubber and cleared it for an icing with 45.6 seconds left on the clock.

If you're doing the math, that little move by Barkov ended up eating up almost 20 seconds.

"It was great," Barkov said of being on the ice during the game's final few minutes. "Those 2-1 games that we've been talking about the whole season, we need those. A really good defensive game… Yesterday was a perfect example. We played really well defensively."

3. TAKING A BREATHER (0:46)

Hunched over their sticks and gasping for air, the Panthers were gifted a breather by the Blues.

Following the aforementioned icing with 45.6 seconds left in regulation, St. Louis opted to call a surprising timeout. And although that downtime allowed the Blues to rest up their scorers and draw up a play in search of the game-tying goal, it ended up serving as a double-edged sword.

At the time of the stoppage, Barkov, Vatrano, Ekblad and Weegar were running on empty. The quartet hadn't left the ice since the sequence at 2:31 began, and even Haula, who managed to relieve Acciari during a quick change with 1:17 left on the clock, certainly enjoyed the stoppage.

And in addition to the rest, the Panthers also took a moment to gather around assistant coach Mike Kitchen, looming over his small white board as he ran players through a play of his own.

On the ensuing draw, Barkov bested O'Reilly the faceoff circle, which led to a clear. Then, after the Blues dumped the puck back into the zone, a second clear, this one off the stick of Ekblad, finally opened up a window for both Vatrano and Barkov to get back to the bench for a change.

Overall, that series of events chipped roughly another 15 seconds off the clock.

4. THE FINAL PUSH (0:31)

Here comes the calvary… Oh, wait, I meant Colton.

Hopping over the boards and into the action with 31 seconds left to endure, Sceviour put his fresh legs to work immediately. Following another gutsy block from Acciari, who re-entered the game at the same time as Sceviour, the Blues ripped the puck around the ice to the left boards.

With some help from Haula, Sceviour managed to beat out O'Reilly for the loose puck, lifting it over the blue line and out of harm's way with just over 10 seconds left. Then, as the Blues tried to get back in the zone, Sceviour broke up a second play to kill off the clock and secure the win.

Leading all NHL forwards with 103 blocks, Acciari registered three in the final 2:31 alone.

"There's no better feeling than coming back to the locker room after the win and see everybody sweating after giving it all on the ice," Barkov said. "We have four good lines rotating and playing really well right now. Everybody's playing for each other and enjoying it right now."

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