Nick Bjugstad has been in possession of the Panthers’ famed ‘Spacey In Space’ sweatshirt the past three games.
That means the sweatshirt — which goes to a team MVP after a victory — hangs in his locker stall and travels with him in his equipment bag.
Bjugstad can’t wait to get rid of the darned thing.
Because the Panthers lost their third straight Sunday evening — this one 3-1 to the host Lightning — the royal blue hoodie made its way back to South Florida in Bjugstad’s bag.
When the Panthers win again, Bjugstad is in charge of awarding it to the next guy.
“I’ve had it for three games now,’’ Bjugstad said after scoring Florida’s lone goal on Sunday. “It’s been in my stall too much. I have to get rid of it Monday night.’’
The Panthers aim to end their losing streak Monday when the Edmonton Oilers come to the BB&T Center in Sunrise.
Coincidentally, Edmonton is the last team Florida has defeated and it’s where Bjugstad was given the sweatshirt in the first place.
If the Panthers play Monday the way they did in the third period of Sunday’s game, they could get back to their winning ways.
If Florida repeats the style it played in the first and second, however, Bjugstad may be stuck with the Kevin Spacey sweatshirt a little longer.
The Panthers end their six-game road trip 3-2-1.
“The third period was a real good period for us, we got within a goal,’’ said coach Gerard Gallant, whose team went 0-5 on the power play in the loss.
“I thought we played well in the third, but the first two, there wasn’t much offense from either team. Tampa took it to us a little in the second and we didn’t get much from out power play.’’
Florida’s power play has struggled lately as the Panthers haven’t scored with the man-advantage since Jan. 2.
After striking out on all five of their power play chances Sunday, the Panthers have gone scoreless on their past 19.
“We need to compete harder, put pucks at the net,’’ Gallant said. “We had some great looks, changed things up in the third. When it’s not going good, it gives the other team momentum.’’
The Lightning survived two Florida power play chances in a scoreless first period which bled into the second.
After Tampa Bay killed off its second penalty, it took a 1-0 lead when Nikita Kucherov teed off from the right circle and beat Roberto Luongo top shelf.
Later in the second, the Lightning made it 2-0 leading the Panthers to go into the third down two goals.
Florida played a much better third and cut Tampa Bay’s lead when Bjugstad followed up his own rebound and scored his first goal since Nov. 21.
Bjugstad missed a month dealing with painful migraines and his goal Sunday was his first point in his seven games since returning.
“We have to keep going, keep trying,’’ Bjugstad said. “We knew their game plan, we just didn’t execute the way we wanted to. They’re a fast team.’’
Florida and Tampa Bay — which both hold playoff positions — battled through the final half of the third period with no one giving up an inch.
With 1:32 left, Luongo skated off the ice to give Florida and extra attacker and the Lightning made the Panthers pay.
Just eight seconds left, Kucherov slid the puck into an empty net for his second of the night.
“We have to stop this as soon as possible,’’ Jaromir Jagr said. “When you’re on a winning streak, everything looks easy. When you’re losing, it’s the other way around. You have to stop it. Hopefully [the third period play] carries over on Monday. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t matter.’’
▪ The Panthers scratched Shawn Thornton on Sunday although it’s expected he’ll be back Monday against Edmonton.
Defenseman Aaron Ekblad missed his third consecutive game after being boarded by Edmonton’s Matt Hendricks last week. Hendricks wasn’t penalized for the hit but was suspended three games. Hendricks’ suspension ended and he’s eligible to return against the Panthers.
▪ Count Lightning coach Jon Cooper as one who thinks having both the Panthers and Tampa Bay being relevant is good for the rivalry.
“I think it’s good for hockey, for everything in the state of Florida,’’ Cooper said, adding the rivalry would get very heated if the two were paired up in the postseason.
“It’s good for us to both do well.”
Said Gallant: “It’s good when both teams in the state are good and battle each other.”