Some thought the Florida Panthers would be lucky to get one point off their four-game road trip to the west coast.
Florida ended up getting two.
Consider that a moral victory.
The Panthers’ 3-2 win last Tuesday in San Jose was the lone win of a four-game trip that got worse on every stop. After beating the Sharks, Florida put up a fight against Phoenix before losing 2-1.
Then came southern California.
The Kings and Ducks did a number on the Panthers as the final big road trip of the year came to a close. Los Angeles beat the Panthers 4-0 on Saturday; a day later and it was the Ducks’ turn. Anaheim beat Florida 6-2.
“There’s still a lot on the line, a lot of pride that needs to be shown,” defenseman Tom Gilbert said. “What’s disappointing is we look good at certain points of every game and then it just collapses. We’re not working hard enough, we’re leaving our goalies out to dry. Regardless of injuries, we need to come together as a team.”
The Panthers didn’t play horrible hockey on the west coast and were within a late goal of forcing overtime against the red-hot Coyotes.
But as has been the case in previous road trips, the Panthers seemed to wear down and didn’t play consistent. Florida’s first period in Anaheim was good enough, but the Ducks pounced on mistakes in the second and quickly led 3-0.
“These are hard lessons and you have to have some thick skin,” coach Peter Horachek said. “You have to have an attitude that we’re learning and coming back. We’ve come out strong, then something happens. It’s disappointing to see how we respond to things.”
The Panthers play eight of their final 10 games at home, kicking off Tuesday against Ottawa.
Horachek said he’s looking for guys who show him they want to play – both young and old.
“I’m looking for the guys to get some experience,” he said. “The veteran guys have to lead the way. It’s imperative when you have a young team, the veterans have to handle the adversity and pick up the young players and keep them moving forward.
“Everyone has accountability. When things are hard, and right now they are, the veterans have to step up and add the leadership needed.”
Florida got on the board midway through the second period Sunday when it appeared Krys Barch scored his first goal since 2012.
Barch’s wrister seemed to slip past goalie Jonas Hiller. Barch leaped to celebrate what appeared to be his first goal in 76 games.
Alas, the goal was awarded to Jimmy Hayes as he was blocking Hiller down low.
“I had no idea who had it,” Barch said.
Hayes, to his credit, now has 10 goals this season – with six coming this month.
“He’s smart and is coming out and playing the net,” Barch said.• Florida sent winger Garrett Wilson back to AHL San Antonio with Jesse Winchester scheduled to return from injury.
• A number of Florida’s collegiate prospects will continue their season in the NCAA Tournament. The field of 16 was announced Sunday morning.
Two of Florida’s top-rated prospects (defensemen Mike Matheson and Ian McCoshen) play for No. 1 seed Boston College. The Eagles will face Florida goalie Sam Brittain and the fourth-seeded University of Denver in the opening round.
The Panthers also have center Kyle Rau playing for top seed Minnesota and center Rocco Grimaldi at fourth-seeded North Dakota.
Margate’s Shane Gostisbehere – drafted by the Flyers – will try and lead top seed Union College back to the Frozen Four for the third straight year.