The Florida Panthers cannot afford to lose too many more games down the final weeks if they hope to make the playoffs.
Moral victories, as usual, just do not count.
On Thursday, the Panthers played another strong game yet will come out on the wrong side of the standings as the host Blue Jackets scored twice late in the second and won 2-1 at Nationwide Arena.
The Panthers, who have lost nine of their past 11, came into the day six points out of the final playoff spot and now have 13 games left to try and make a giant leap into the postseason.
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“We had a lot of chances and couldn’t bury them. This is a tough loss,” Jonathan Huberdeau said.
“We can’t afford to lose any more. It’s a tough one to swallow.”
Columbus tied the score at 1 with 4:05 left in the second on a wrist shot from Zach Werenski then made it 2-1 lead with 38.5 seconds remaining in the period when Josh Anderson’s 45-foot shot went off of James Reimer’s glove and in.
Florida took a 1-0 lead twice as its initial goal scored by Huberdeau was waved off following a lengthy review.
Huberdeau appeared to score his sixth goal at 3:44 after wrapping the puck past Bobrovsky but officials determined he made contact with the Columbus goalie.
With 1:45 left in the opening period, Jonathan Marchessault officially made it 1-0 when he found a puck Thomas Vanek bounced off Columbus’ Kyle Quincey and put it into the back of the net.
Marchessault, signed to the bargain-basement price of $1.5 million over two seasons this past summer, leads Florida with 23 goals.
Reimer ended the night with 32 saves; Sergei Bobrovsky stoned the Panthers throughout, stopping 33 of 34 shots.
“It could have gone either way,” coach Tom Rowe said. “They made a couple of plays, we did a good job and their goaltender made some saves. ... They played their hearts out, know what’s on the line. We’re going to fight until the end.”
The Panthers kicked off a three-game road trip with games in four days; Florida traveled to New York following Thursday’s game and will visit Pittsburgh on Sunday afternoon.
▪ A few weeks ago, Rowe called the hockey tradition of having a short ‘morning skate’ on game days as a waste of time.
On Thursday, following Florida’s light workout, Rowe said the Panthers (like many teams around the league) will move away from making them part of their game day routine.
“I think it reaches a burnout factor,” Rowe said. “The fact that more teams are getting away from morning skates I think is probably going to be the norm probably in a year or two. We’re going to eventually get away from it, but we’re not going to change too many things this year.
“Going forward, I’d love to see the pregame skates disappear.’’
Rowe, like former coach Gerard Gallant, makes the actual participation of the 30-minute on-ice workout optional although a large majority of players take part.
▪ Former Florida broadcaster Jeff Rimer was celebrated before Thursday’s game for working his 2,000th NHL broadcast last weekend.
Rimer was part of the Panthers’ inaugural broadcast crew with Denis Potvin before leaving South Florida (he still keeps a home there) when former Panthers coach Doug MacLean hired him to work Columbus games.
FRIDAY: PANTHERS AT RANGERS
When, where: 7 p.m.; Madison Square Garden, New York.
TV/Radio: FSFL; WQAM 560, WMEN 640.
Series: New York leads 51-34-6.
Scouting report: The Rangers are home for St. Patrick’s Day and are well rested after being off since losing to the Lightning on Monday. New York lost to the Panthers on home ice in a November shootout but avenged that loss by thumping Florida 5-2 last Tuesday in Sunrise.