Small breakdowns made the Florida Panthers’ three-game road trip through California a big disappointment.
It started Wednesday in Anaheim where a goal allowed in the final six seconds led to an overtime loss, and it ended Saturday after a three-goal outburst in less than five minutes led the Los Angeles Kings to a 4-1 victory in a Staples Center matinee.
Florida’s loss was its fifth straight (0-3-2) as it gasps to stay relevant in the Eastern Conference standings.
The Panthers have not won in Los Angeles since 2002 — a seven-game slide at Staples Center.
“I like the way we played in the first and I loved the way we played in the third. But the second period, they really took it to us,” Florida coach Gerard Gallant said. “[Saturday] we played a great team. They play a man’s game and we still have some kids in there.
“I’m not disappointed. I’m disappointed in six or seven minutes tonight.”
All the joy supplied by a 1-0 Panthers lead was sucked away in a span of 4:18 late in the second period as the Kings broke out three goals in three equally tough scenarios.
Jeff Carter was left wide open when Quinton Howden fell to the ice and Carter smashed in the tying goal at 13:16. A few minutes later, Erik Gudbranson’s hooking penalty set up a Drew Doughty one-timer that beat Roberto Luongo 13 seconds into the power play.
And then, just 55 seconds later, Anze Kopitar whiffed on a wobbling puck near the net and it sat perilously near Luongo’s skate alongside the post. Kopitar poked it in with a second effort.
Streaking Milan Lucic added to the misery at 8:31 of the third period with a perfect tap-in via an assist from Carter to make it 4-1.
“It’s not fun to be in a building where everyone is cheering against you and you’re getting it handed to you,” Gudbranson said. “We get into these little five-minute spurts where the wheels fall off. We’ve got to go to the drawing board and figure something out.”
Aside from lamenting those three goals in that short span, the Panthers also failed to make use of a 5-on-3 power play which spanned 75 seconds early in the second period. Florida didn’t cash in — and had just one shot on goal — and it didn’t take long for the Los Angeles onslaught to commence.
Florida also had trouble putting the puck on net, especially early on. Though the game ended with a 35-19 advantage for the Kings, it was a much wider gap earlier on as at one point late in the second, Florida had just two shots on goal in the period.
“We probably should’ve taken more opportunities to put the puck on net in the first period,” Gudbranson said.
The Panthers’ only goal came in the final minute of the first period as Nick Bjugstad darted through the neutral zone to his right and let loose with a shot that went across his body and over Jonathan Quick’s right shoulder. An assist was credited to Jonathan Huberdeau, moving him into the team lead with six.
Florida now heads home after getting just one of the available six points in California. The Panthers hope spending a nice stretch at home will allow the them to get back in a winning mode.
The Panthers play seven of the next eight at BB&T Center and do not leave the state until heading to Detroit following Thanksgiving.
“We’ve got an important homestand coming up here,’’ Gudbranson said. “This can really make or break us.”