The Panthers have been down two goals and come back before. That was a deficit too much to overcome Saturday night.
The visiting Red Wings scored twice early in the third and held off the hard-charging Panthers for a 4-3 win at a raucous BB&T Center. Florida came within a few centimeters of tying the game late but couldn't find that elusive fourth goal.
“We’ve shown we can do it; we’ve done it many times,’’ said Sean Bergenheim, who twice scored to cut Florida’s deficit to one. “But it’s too much to put ourselves in this position so many times. It’s kind of getting old, to be honest. We have to learn. We played good in some areas of the game, had chances.’’
The Red Wings didn’t waste much time in getting their goals as they scored twice in the first and opened the third with a pair of goals within the opening 80 seconds.
Florida countered with second-period goals from Bergenheim and Nick Bjugstad before Bergenheim made it 4-3 with 15:33 left.
The Panthers had numerous opportunities in the final minute. With goalie Scott Clemmensen on the bench, Florida went with an extra skater and poured on the pressure. But Jonas Gustavsson held Florida off — and kicked away a potential game-tying goal in the final seconds from a Tomas Kopecky offering — to get Detroit’s first win against Florida this season.
The Panthers, who have lost three in a row, had won the first two meetings between the new division rivals.
“We kind of calmed things down, which is what we wanted to do,’’ said Bjugstad, who tied the score with a beautiful breakaway goal that fooled Gustavsson (30 saves).
“We had a chance in the last minutes, had chances. We just had to bury it. We get down two and have come back a lot. When Bergenheim scored, we figured we were right back in it.’’
The Panthers were the aggressors early, but former Ottawa captain Daniel Alfredsson made it 1-0 on Detroit’s first shot 3:47 in. Florida gave up its second power-play goal of the night four shots later when Henrik Zetterberg scored to make it 2-0.
“I’ve seen Detroit do that a lot,’’ said Panthers coach Peter Horachek, who spent the past decade in Detroit’s division as an assistant with Nashville.
“We were outshooting them 7-1, 9-1, but they scored. In the third, they had chances that were hurtful to us. They take advantage of their opportunities.’’
The Panthers gave their fans something to cheer about at 12:52 of the second when Bergenheim took a sweet feed from Brian Campbell and backhanded it through. Bjugstad scored unassisted two minutes later.
Detroit, which had lost seven of nine coming in, opened things up with a pair of goals moments into the third. Goals from Brendan Smith and Gustav Nyquist came 38 seconds apart as Florida quickly found itself down two again.
“They got two easy goals in the third, and we can’t have that,’’ Bergenheim said.
• Despite Tim Thomas being pulled off the injured list, Horachek went with Clemmensen on Saturday.
Horachek said before the game that the decision was made to give Thomas an extra day of rest, with the expectation that he goes Sunday against Montreal.
• Saturday’s announced attendance of 18,932 was the largest of the season, surpassing the 18,584 announced for the home opener against Pittsburgh.
Florida’s largest crowd of the season is expected Sunday when Montreal comes to town.