There was a lot to like for the Florida Panthers on Friday night, although there was plenty of concern as well.
Despite taking the lead in the third, Florida’s defensive deficiencies led to yet another loss as the Minnesota Wild escaped Sunrise with a 7-4 victory.
Florida’s losses are piling up like firewood, and the Panthers’ playoff hopes might just be cooked.
The Panthers have lost seven of their past eight, including a seven-game run at home in which Florida got just a lackluster shootout win against the Carolina Hurricanes.
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“It was a good battle, but they got seven [goals] on us so that’s terrible. There’s not much to say,” Jonathan Marchessault said.
“Our whole season, right now, has been a disappointment. ... At this point of the year, time is limited. We have less games; we need to turn this boat around.”
Florida led 4-3 early in the third before Eric Staal scored off one of the many loose pucks the Panthers failed to clear around goalie James Reimer 5:24 into the period.
With 5:07 left, Zach Parise also took advantage of a loose puck and scored the game-winner.
Minnesota tacked on a pair of empty-net goals in the final 70 seconds to finish Florida off.
The Wild is the fourth team during Florida’s recent slide to play in Tampa one night and beat the Panthers the following evening.
Interim coach Tom Rowe, who has been stressing the importance of Florida’s defensive play lately, said he didn’t see much wrong with it on Friday despite all the goals allowed.
Florida gave up 46 shots on goal — two of which were into the empty net — as Minnesota took aim at Reimer 70 times, according to official missed/block shot totals. The Panthers were credited for 40 shots on goal and 59 attempted shots.
“There were some defensive breakdowns, but I thought we played a heck of a game,” Rowe said. “I thought our guys competed hard and were right there to the end. There were a few rebounds we didn’t pick up quick enough, but I thought our guys played a real good game.”
A point out of the playoffs just last week, the Panthers have seen their standing slide over the past few weeks.
The Lightning hosts the Panthers on Saturday night and will go into the game two points ahead of Florida in the playoff hunt despite injuries having most observers counting the Bolts out.
Minnesota, which lost 4-1 in Tampa on Thursday night, took a 1-0 lead in the first. But Florida fought back and took a 2-1 lead into the intermission after goals from Marchessault (his 20th of the season) and defenseman Mark Pysyk off a slick feed from Vincent Trocheck.
The Wild tied it and then took a 3-2 lead midway through the second. But Jaromir Jagr brought things back to even as he carried the puck around the net, fired off a shot from 20 feet and watched the puck bounce off goalie Darcy Kuemper and in.
Early in the third, Sasha Barkov charged in and scored the go-ahead goal for the Panthers.
But the lead wouldn’t last.
Kuemper and Reimer had a lot to deal with Friday, with both teams coming out hard.
It wasn’t just shots but odd plays as well.
The third goal Reimer allowed came with him flat on his back — looking like a kid doing snow angels on the ice — as a loose puck sat around with Florida failing to clear.
Jason Pominville swooped in and popped it in the unguarded net.
Florida’s first goal came on a long shot from Marchessault off a power-play face off, his shot deflecting off Minnesota defenseman Ryan Suter and past Kuemper.
Reimer even got into one of the scuffles as Mikael Granlund grabbed his stick and wouldn’t let go. The Florida goalie gave the Wild center a few shoves, including one in the head.
Kuemper didn’t make it to the end of the game as Minnesota coach Bruce Boudreau yanked him in favor of regular starter Devan Dubnyk to begin the third.
Dubnyk then misplayed a puck, allowing Barkov to score into an empty net — although Dubnyk was strong for much of the third, leading the Wild to victory.
“We did some good things but we did some things which are costly this late in the season,” Panthers defenseman Keith Yandle said. “The things we did will hurt you, and they did [Friday night]. When you give up as many goals as we did, you can’t be happy. We’ll look at it, try and be better [Saturday night].”
Saturday: Panthers at Lightning
When/where: 7 p.m.; Amalie Arena, Tampa.
TV/radio: FSFL; WQAM 560, WMEN 640.
Series: Florida leads 64-51-10.
Scouting report: The Lightning has won three of its past five and despite dealing off some assets at the trade deadline is closer to a playoff spot than its cross-state rival. Florida, which has won two of three against Tampa Bay this season, sits two points back of the Lightning after losing to the Wild on Friday night.