As Schoolhouse Rock sang, three is the magic number. Thursday night at the BB&T Center, the Panthers couldn’t get that third goal when they had the chances with an early lead.
San Jose did. Then, the Sharks threw in an empty-netter to hand the Panthers a 4-2 loss.
With the game tied 2-2, Florida’s Aleksander Barkov got something of a draw with San Jose’s Chris Tierney on a face-off in the right circle of the Panthers zone. But San Jose’s Tommy Wingels reacted toward the puck quicker than Panthers defenseman Michael Matheson.
Wingels pulled away from Matheson and Aaron Ekblad, sashayed across the front of the net and slid home the game-winner 8:53 into the third. Logan Coutre got the empty net goal.
Panthers coach Gerard Gallant said he generally liked the way the Panthers played the defending Western Conference champions, a team with a talented, veteran core.
“We made a mistake late in the first period, we get a shot blocked, they go down the ice and score,” Gallant said. “Second goal, we make a bad mistake on a line change, they get an odd man rush, they score. I liked the way we played most of the game, but we made three mistakes and they wound up in the back of our net.”
But in discussing yet another blown lead, Gallant said, “We made mistakes when we shouldn’t make mistakes. We forced plays. We gave them the goals, they didn’t deserve the goals. We talk about it all the time. You give up leads, you make it a habit, we’re going to have a tough season. If you don’t want to bear down and make the right plays at the right time, it’s going to be a long season.”
Saturday, the Panthers and Islanders play a rematch of last year’s first round playoff series won by New York.
The Panthers owned the first 10 minutes as far as both the play and good fortune. They tend to go together.
Spend enough time in the opposing zone and a shot might get a fortuitous accidentally perfect deflection by the goalie. Which is what happened when Panthers defenseman Jason Demers’ one-timer from the right point ticked off the stick of San Jose’s Tommy Wingels to give the Panthers a 1-0 lead.
Demers’ goals in the first 13 games: 0. Demers goals in the first 7:26 Thursday night: two.
Goal No. 2 for Demers and the Panthers came as he jumped down to pop in a loose puck in the slot. Aleksander Barkov and Jaromir Jagr got the assists, the fifth of the season for each.
As things evened out in puck possession and territorial play, you could feel the Panthers needed another goal to subjugate dogged San Jose’s spirit. Reilly Smith couldn’t finish after a dangle dance between two defenseman in the left circle left him one-on-one with goalie Martin Jones. Another Panthers flurry saw Vincent Trocheck come open between the circle tops but eschew the shot in favor of feeding defenseman Keith Yandle outside the right circle.
Mistake. Yandle’s shot got blocked into the neutral zone by Brent Burns. Burns chased down the puck, carried the disc and a defender and shoved the former by Reimer on a rush that seemed inspired by Amtrak.
The Panthers 2-1 lead after one period disappeared 1:53 into the second when Joe Pavelski found himself with a two-on-one from the face-off dots down. After a slight hint at a pass, Pavelski whipped a wrister into the upper corner inside the far post.
Reimer gave up no rebounds on a 34-second San Jose five-on-three, a major factor in keeping the score tied through a Demers holding penalty and an Aaron Ekblad slashing penalty.
Teams with scouts at the game: Winnipeg, New Jersey, Pittsburgh. ... The Panthers scratched defenseman Dylan McIlrath, left wing Shawn Thornton and center Kyle Rau. The Sharks scratched center Micheal Haley, defenseman Dylan Demelo and left wing Matt Nieto.