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Panthers' Strong October Highlighted by Character and Comebacks

by Jameson Olive / @JamesonCoop /

DENVER - Regardless of what happens around the league on Thursday night, the Florida Panthers will be heading into November sitting in a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

Erasing a 3-1 deficit in the third period to come from behind and secure a 4-3 overtime win over the Central Division-leading Avalanche on Wednesday night in Denver, the Panthers improved to 6-3-4 on the season and finished their four-game road trip with five of a possible eight points.

With 16 points in the standings, the team achieved its third-best October in franchise history.

"Very happy," Panthers coach Joel Quenneville said of the road trip, which featured four games against teams currently holding playoff spots. "I think overall all the teams we played are really good teams, really good home teams. Being above .500 makes it look like a real good trip."

In coming from behind to defeat the Avalanche, the Panthers continue to show that they're not a team that's ever going to throw into the towel. In the seven games that they've entered the third period trailing by a goal or more this season, they've clawed back to earn points in four of them.

They've also shown they can close out games, going 4-0-0 when leading after 40 minutes.

"It's character," Panthers winger Jonathan Huberdeau said. "We don't give up."

Trailing by two goals late in the third period against the Avalanche, it was a power-play goal from Aleksander Barkov that sparked Florida's comeback, cutting the deficit to 3-2 at 12:04 of the final frame. Then, with the goalie pulled, Huberdeau made it 3-3 at 18:30 to force overtime.

Just 29 seconds into the extra frame, Barkov set up Huberdeau for a goal to secure the 4-3 win.

"We don't need to panic," said Huberdeau, who leads the team with seven goals and is tied with Barkov for the team-scoring lead with 15 points. "Even if we're down two goals, we're focused. We're that kind of team. We're good. We know we can come back every game."

While it was Huberdeau that scored the game-tying and game-winning goals in Denver, the Panthers have had heroics come from up and down their lineup this season. With Barkov and Colton Sceviour also scoring in the win, the team now boasts 17 players with at least one goal.

As it stands now, Nashville, Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay are the only other teams with that many different goal scorers.

In net, Sergei Bobrovsky has helped the Panthers earn a point in each of his last seven starts, going 4-0-3 in that span while making what feels like at least a handful of incredibly spectacular saves each night. Behind him, rookie backup Sam Montembeault has gotten off to a 1-1-1 start.

Bobrovsky, however, isn't the only new Panther making an impact.

Noel Acciari has tallied four goals, 22 hits and 22 blocks while centering a gritty fourth line. Brett Connolly has notched nine points, including four goals. Anton Stralman is skating an average of 20:35 per night on the blue line and has chipped in four assists and 22 blocks. Brian Boyle, who joined the team on Oct. 20, has already scored twice and is winning 50 percent of his faceoffs.

Returning players like MacKenzie Weegar, Aaron Ekblad, Evgenii Dadonov are also off to good starts. Weegar and Ekblad have combined for 19 points while earning tough assignments as the team's new top-defensive pair. Hoffman and Dadonov, meanwhile, have combined for 12 goals.

"We have a great team here, great guys here," Barkov said. "Why not go out there and battle for each other and play the right way? We know can battle back in any game… Every guy has been contributing in some way. When we do the right things, we can beat any team in this league."

With one month in the books, it's safe to say the Panthers have avoided a slow start.

Despite spending the majority of October on the road going up against some of the top teams in the league, the Panthers earned points in 10 of 13 games - including a stellar eight-game point streak. Additionally, their three regulation losses are currently tied for fifth-fewest in the league.

Of the 13 games they've played, 10 came against teams currently residing in playoff spots.

"I think we're starting to play more together and play more system-wise," Huberdeau said.

Looking ahead, the challenge now is to keep going and build off their early-season success.

Luckily, they'll be doing most of that work on home ice in sunny South Florida, as the team will follow up its road-heavy opening month with eight of their 13 November games at BB&T Center.

"It's going to be good to be under the sunshine a little bit," Huberdeau said.

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