After big overtime wins, Florida Panthers hit Toronto
The Florida Panthers were one of the worst teams in the league last year when it came to games decided in the five-minute, 3-on-3 overtime period.
Not shootouts, no, the Panthers were pretty good in those.
Florida has definitely reversed course this season.
Tuesday’s 4-3 victory in Montreal was Florida’s fourth consecutive overtime victory to start the season as Aaron Ekblad’s broken-stick knuckleball somehow found its way between the skates of Montreal All-Star Carey Price to win it with two minutes left before the shootout round would have commenced.
After going 7-3 in shootouts last year, the Panthers are 0-1 there now after losing in Tampa Bay in the opening week of the season.
Tuesday’s win in Montreal also marked the first time Florida has won consecutive games this season since going 2-0 heading into Tampa.
"Everyone feels good about themselves today," coach Gerard Gallant said after Florida’s practice in Toronto. "We just have to keep this going for a little bit. Things are positive right now. We played a good first and third periods [Tuesday], played a good strong game. We didn’t give up a lot. We’re happy with the performance."
Last year, the Panthers won just one of seven games decided in the 3-on-3 overtime although that record was misleading if not, well, what it was.
Florida lost a number of overtime games after being hit with untimely penalties last year, including its first OT game in Pittsburgh when Evgeni Malkin scored with a 4-on-3 advantage.
The Panthers’ lone overtime win of last season came Nov. 29 in Detroit on a Brian Campbell goal. Florida matched that win on opening night when Sasha Barkov scored with 2:12 left to beat the Devils 2-1.
"We had a good overtime team last year but it just seemed every time the other team had a chance to score, they did," Gallant said.
"I liked the way we played in overtime last year, and this year as well. We’re getting the breaks right now, the pucks are going in. I like the way we play 3-on-3. Last year we didn’t get the results, this year we are. It has been a real lift."
Two of Florida’s overtime wins this year have come against the Devils. Florida got its third OT win Saturday night against the Islanders – a team which won three of their four playoff games against the Panthers by winning in the more traditional, 5-on-5 overtime.
"We have a real confident group right now," Gallant said, "and more talent than we have ever had. We have skill and fast players."
▪ James Reimer, who was drafted by the Leafs in 2006 and spent part of six seasons in Toronto, will get his first start at Air Canada Center in something other than Leafs’ blue-and-white on Thursday.
Roberto Luongo made 25 saves in Florida’s 3-2 loss at Toronto on Oct. 27.
"Like I said last time, I have a lot of good memories here," said Reimer, who is 2-2-1 since signing a five-year deal with the Panthers on July 1. "I had a lot of fun. It will be fun to start here, hopefully steal two points."
Said Gallant: "He deserves it, has played well for us. We’re not going to play Luongo 75 games this year Reimer is going to help us. We’ll be strong in net every night."
▪ Florida has won its past five games against the Canadiens including its past three in Montreal. The Canadiens had been trying to become the first NHL team since the 1963 Blackhawks to start 11-0 at home.
Unlike this Montreal team, those Blackhawks didn’t have the benefit of trying to win a tied game after three periods as overtime didn’t become part of the NHL until 1983.
Tuesday’s game was the first to go past regulation in Montreal this season as Florida handed Price (10-1-0) his first defeat of the year.
▪ Gallant said center Nick Bjugstad (hand) will not rejoin the Florida lineup until Sunday’s game at the New York Rangers at the earliest.
Bjugstad has been out since fracturing a bone in one of Florida’s final exhibition games of the preseason.
"I can’t see him playing in Ottawa, so it’s either the Rangers game or when we get home," Gallant said. "He’s cleared to do everything but play. Once the docs clear him, he’ll go in. Everything is good with him."
Thursday: Panthers at Maple Leafs
When/where: 7:30 p.m.; Air Canada Center, Toronto.
TV/radio: FSFL; 560 WQAM; 640 WMEN.
Series: Toronto leads 36-33-7..
Scouting report: The Leafs were just 1-2-3 before beating the visiting Panthers last month and have now won five of nine since including a 6-2 victory over Nashville on Tuesday. Florida has won nine of the past 13 meetings between the two including five of seven in Toronto.