It’s probably a good thing the Panthers never moved to Nashville as was threatened back in the mid-1990s while they were wheeling and dealing to get their arena built in Sunrise.
They don’t play very well here, anyway.
Florida’s Music City losing streak continued Tuesday as the Predators scored twice in the third to break a tie before winning 4-3 at Bridgestone Arena.
The Panthers haven’t won here since taking the first two meetings against the expansion Preds in 1998 and ’99. Florida, the first ever opponent for the Preds in Nashville, has lost five in a row here.
“We had some chances at 4-3,” said Jonathan Huberdeau, who started Florida’s scoring. “We missed some chances at the end. [Jacob] Markstrom kept us in it. You have to take the positives from this game. We had a good effort. We had some lines clicking. We just have to be better defensively to help Markstrom.”
The Panthers, who have lost two in a row and five of their first seven this season, played well for much of the night. But Nashville turned the momentum in its favor 1:22 into the third when Craig Smith cleaned up a loose puck in front of Markstrom.
Nashville added a power-play goal from Patric Hornqvist as he threw a puck at Markstrom’s skates and watched it trickle in a few minutes later.
Florida was unable to bounce back from the two-goal deficit as Hornqvist’s goal served as the winner.
The Panthers did come close, however, getting a goal credited to Matt Gilroy that went off the stick of Nashville’s David Legwand with 8:23 left.
“We’re trying to take out the small mistakes,” coach Kevin Dineen said. “I don’t fault the compete level, we’ve talked about that too much. We had numerous chances with the empty net and their goalie made some big saves.
“We got a 60-minute game. We gave up a bad power-play goal that was a savable goal. We need to start winning these games. We need to win.”
Florida trailed or was tied with the Preds throughout the game as Nashville scored the initial goal Tuesday and also led 2-1 before the Panthers came back.
Huberdeau got his third goal in four games to lead things off as he charged in on Pekka Rinne and drilled the puck through early in the second.
Mike Fisher scored with 7:12 left in the second to make it 2-1, but Marcel Goc answered by chopping at a loose puck in front of the net off a Jesse Winchester offering less than a minute later.
“That wasn’t the start to the third we wanted but overall it was a tight game,” said Goc, who played in Nashville before coming to Florida. “Neither team gave up much. We just couldn’t keep the puck in the zone in long enough when we had the advantage. We kept pushing and pushing. We just couldn’t crack them.”
The focus of Tuesday’s game was not of two struggling Sun Belt teams trying to find their way this season but of the matchup of budding stars.
Florida held the second overall pick in June’s NHL Draft and passed on Seth Jones — the top-ranked defenseman available — and took Aleksander Barkov instead.
Nashville had planned on taking Barkov with the fourth pick but gladly took Jones when the Panthers and Lightning didn’t. Jones said at the draft that he “wanted to prove them wrong,” and Tuesday was his first shot at the Panthers.
Neither Jones nor Barkov scored, although Jones got an assist on Nashville’s second goal. Both were on the ice together for much of the night as Jones was on for 15 of Barkov’s 21 shifts.
“It’s cool to see the second and fourth picks out there,” said Huberdeau, the NHL’s reigning rookie of the year. “Seth Jones is already a good defenseman and we know the skill Barkov has. It’s nice to see them battle. They’ll be doing that for years.”
The Panthers sat veteran winger Scottie Upshall on Tuesday as center Nick Bjugstad played in his first game of the season.
Upshall had an assist in Florida’s season-opening win at Dallas but is minus-6 since. Upshall, who makes $3.5 million, is signed through next season and has six goals in 59 games with the Panthers.
“I’m just trying to put the best players I can on the ice,” Dineen said, “to give us the best opportunity to win. That’s all that was.”
• Bjugstad jumped back into the lineup after having just one full practice with the team. Bjugstad missed all of training camp after sustained a concussion Sept. 8. Florida’s offensive concerns all but necessitated Bjugstad’s quick return. It was thought he would start the season in the minors.
“He was fine,” Dineen said. “He hasn’t played a real game in months and I thought he stepped in and did a solid job.”
With Bjugstad at center, Shawn Matthias moved over to right wing on the third line.
• John Madden, a center on Florida’s division championship team two years ago, worked with the centers during Tuesday’s morning skate. Madden is currently a pro scout for the Panthers after working in Montreal’s front office last season.
• After playing five of the first seven games away from South Florida, the Panthers come home to bask in the sun for the next few weeks.
Florida’s upcoming six-game homestand is its longest of the season as the team doesn’t play on the road again until visiting Washington on Nov. 2. The Panthers open their long homestand Thursday against Boston.
“Maybe that’s what we need to get going,” Goc said. Florida is 1-1-0 at home this year.