Hockey’s heavyweights continue to fall at the hands of the Florida Panthers.
The Panthers’ 3-0 win against the Boston Bruins on Thursday night at the BB&T Center extended a giant-killing trend. Since Feb. 22, the Panthers have defeated five of the top six teams in the Eastern Conference, beating Washington, Pittsburgh, Toronto, Philadelphia and now Boston by a combined total of nine goals.
Only the Tampa Bay Lightning, which beat the Panthers 5-4 in overtime, escaped a whipping.
By beating the Bruins, the Panthers improved to 16-4-1 since Jan. 30 and now have 77 points. They trail New Jersey by three points for the second Eastern Conference wild-card playoff berth. The Panthers trail Columbus and Philadelphia by four points for the other wild-card spot.
Florida, which has also won nine of its past 10 home games, has two games in hand on New Jersey and three each on Columbus and Philly.
Here are five takeaways from Thursday’s game:
▪ 1. Birthday boy: Backup goalie James Reimer — playing on his 30th birthday — got the start and stopped 46 shots, producing his third shutout of the season.
In Panthers history, only Craig Anderson has made more saves in a Florida shutout, stopping 53 shots in 2008.
Reimer has won five of his past six games in place of Roberto Luongo, who was rested so he could be fresh for the Edmonton Oilers on Saturday afternoon.
▪ 2. Big Daddy strikes again: Evgenii “Daddy” Dadonov set up the first two goals with assists and has 25 points in his past 21 games.
Nick Bjugstad, who had a goal and an assist, is also on an impressive run. He has 13 points in his past 11 games.
▪ 3. Power-play finisher: Vincent Trocheck scored his 13th power-play goal of the season, tying him with Alex Ovechkin for fourth place in the NHL. Only Patrik Laine (18), Steven Stamkos (15) and Evgeni Malkin (14) have more power-play goals.
In addition, Florida was 1 for 2 on the night with the man advantage, and the Panthers killed off all four of Boston’s power plays.
On Trocheck’s goal, the Panthers scored with 34 seconds left on the power play. And other than one clear by Boston, the Panthers had the puck in the offensive zone the entire time, creating three scoring chances until Trocheck scored from the right circle, hitting the far side of the net, top shelf.
▪ 4. For the defense: The Panthers were shorthanded with defenseman Alex Petrovic out because of lower-body injury.
In addition, defenseman Mike Matheson sat for a long stretch after he was hit with an instigator penalty. That penalty was necessary to stand up for Trocheck, who suffered a high hit by Boston’s David Backes. Matheson charged at Backes immediately after the hit.
That left the Panthers short on defense, but they held up, thanks to heavy minutes by iron man Keith Yandle (27:59) and Aaron Ekblad (24.34). Mark Pysyk played 19:24, and Matheson was in for 17:17.
Rookies Ian McCoshen (14:23) and MacKenzie Weegar (13:52) came up big, helping Reimer get his shutout.
The defensemen also combined for three points on the night — one each for Ekblad, Yandle and Matheson. And Ekblad made perhaps the most impressive play of the night in the third period. After losing his stick, he shoved Boston’s Rick Nash off the puck and then completely flattened David Pastrnak.
Nash weighs 210 pounds, and Pastrnak goes 190. But neither was a match for the 6-4, 215-pound Ekblad.
And, check out the ages on Florida’s four youngest defensemen on Thursday: Weegar and Matheson, 24; and McCoshen and Ekblad, 22.
▪ 5. The Panthers caught a break: The Bruins, who are third in the NHL with 96 points, rested starting goalie Tuukka Rask, who is 20-3-1 with a 1.48 goals-against average in his career against Florida.
The Bruins were also without defensemen Zdeno Chara (upper-body injury) and Charlie McAvoy (knee), center Patrice Bergeron (foot) and left winger Jake DeBrusk (upper body).