The Carolina Hurricanes gave the Panthers nothing but trouble this season.
Tuesday, the Hurricanes all but marked the official countdown to another long summer for hockey fans in South Florida.
Carolina, the team which ended coach Gerard Gallant’s time with the Panthers by beating Florida back in November, got a pair of Jeff Skinner goals to help beat the Panthers 4-3 at BB&T Center.
Carolina went 2-0-1 against the Panthers this season including a 3-2 win in Raleigh on Nov. 27 which was the final game behind the Florida bench for Gallant.
Florida fired Gallant, in part, to kick start a team hovering around .500. Tuesday’s second loss to the Hurricanes this season put the Panthers at 31-30-11 — or 73 points in 72 games which is, just barely, above .500 in the NHL.
The Panthers have lost 11 of their past 14 games after going through the most successful regular season in franchise history last year.
“At the end of the day, these are the times you go through,” said Tom Rowe, Florida’s GM who replaced Gallant on an interim basis behind the bench.
“Learn how to win. The feeling, they have now, really hurts especially after such a successful season last year – 103 points, a divisional title.
“Expectations were incredibly high this year. These are the trying times you have to go through when you have a young group like we have. They have to feel the pain, and we’re feeling it a little too frequently lately. It’s all part of the process.”
On Tuesday, in a game meaningful to only friends and close relatives, Florida held three different leads yet Carolina battled back each time and finally took a lead of its own with 3:55 left when Skinner put one past backup goalie Reto Berra — making his first start since December 2015.
Skinner tied the score at 3 early in the second period.
As was the case in the previous two games, Florida just could not bury the Hurricanes. In the first game, the Panthers jumped to a 2-0 lead only to watch Carolina score three quick ones to open the second.
Last month, on the eve of the trade deadline, the Panthers took another 2-0 lead. Carolina battled back and ended up losing in a shootout.
“It’s unbelievable. I don’t what to say about that,” Sasha Barkov said.
“I don’t know how many games we’ve lost in the last five minutes. We’ve been leading almost every game the last two months and then we find a way to lose them. I don’t know… it’s unbelievable. Like I said, we had good chances to score but didn’t’ score.”
The Panthers got off to a quick start with Barkov flashing the net and redirecting a Jason Demers shot past goalie Cam Ward just 1:35 into the game.
Yet, as was the case all night, the Hurricanes — who are now two points ahead of the sinking Panthers in the Eastern Conference standings — would respond in kind.
Up 1-0, Florida watched Teuvo Teravainen answer at 5:09 of the first.
When Florida made it 2-1 on Reilly Smith’s one-timer of a Jussi Jokinen delivery at 11:51, the Hurricanes tied it two-plus minutes later on a Sebastian Aho goal.
As was the case in the opening period, Florida jumped Ward early in the second as Keith Yandle’s long shot through traffic made it a 3-2 game just 1:14 into the period.
Carolina, of course, answered as Skinner scored his first of the night just 27 seconds later to tie things up at 3.
“I think we had a lot of good chances to score, but our defensive game wasn’t there,” Barkov said. “We let them score four goals. If they score four goals, there’s a pretty good chance for them to win the game.
“We need to play a better defensive game. Of course we had a lot of chances that we needed to score.”