The Florida Panthers wanted to end their recent six-game road trip on a positive note against the Carolina Hurricanes at PNC Arena on Friday night.
However, when they left the building, they carried a 4-1 loss on their shoulders as well as an injured goalkeeper in starter Roberto Luongo who left the game with a lower-body injury with 38 seconds remaining in the first period.
Troy Brouwer’s sixth goal of the season was the lone offensive result the Panthers could generate against Carolina netminder Curtis McElhinney who made 34 saves on the night.
“We had some good looks,” Brouwer said.
“He’s a good goalie and made some big saves tonight. I thought we had some good opportunities to take over the game, but we weren’t able to do it.”
Head coach Bob Boughner was looking for a response from his squad after a tough 7-3 loss in Tampa Bay two days ago, particularly against a team that leads the NHL in shots on goal.
He put out the rally cry during his media scrum following the morning skate.
“Tonight, we’ve gotta be really strong in front of our net on second and third opportunities,” he said.
“We gotta box out, we gotta seal sticks, we gotta block shots. In the neutral zone, we’ve gotta try and be tighter and not allow them to get some speed and get in there.”
Early on it looked as though the Panthers executed the plan as directed.
Luongo was solid in making stops while at the other end, depth line support helped keep Carolina’s defense and McElhinney busy.
However, the few Grade-A chances the Panthers generated were denied by the Carolina keeper. Mike Hoffman, Evgenii Dadonov, and Aleksander Barkov totaled 10 shots combined and were kept off the score sheet.
Luongo remained sharp, particularly when he made back-to-back saves on an offensive sequence created by Carolina forward Jordan Martinook.
But after denying a rebound attempt from Martinook’s teammate, Lucas Wallmark, he overextended in his slide across the crease as the loose puck eventually was tapped past him by Martinook.
While Florida fell behind 1-0 with 38 seconds remaining in the period, the bigger concern was the loss of Luongo who held the back of his right leg in the air following the play.
Backup James Reimer came in to finish the remainder of the game, making 26 saves in the eventual losing effort, as Luongo left for the remainder with nine saves to his credit.
Even while eventually outshooting the Hurricanes by a 16-11 margin at the end of the opening 20 minutes, the Panthers never quite recovered the momentum they began the game with.
Both sides skated to a scoreless second period while Carolina picked up its momentum and outshot the Panthers 16-8.
“We couldn’t find a way to score when we needed a goal,” Boughner said.
“Give McElhinney some credit. He played well. When you look at it, the effort was there, I thought we competed hard. At the end of the day, we couldn’t find the tying goal we needed.”
A rejuvenated energy level in the third could only produce Brower’s goal with 5:56 remaining and couldn’t match the Hurricanes’ effort in scoring three more – two from Martinook to tally his first career hat trick along with one from Teuvo Teravainen.
By the time the final horn sounded, the Panthers were sent packing and ready to return home with a second loss in as many games, part of a 2-4-0 road trip finish that will transition into an upcoming eight- game homestand.
“I think that’s going to be a relief for everybody,” Boughner said about the trip ending. “It’s been a long month here, long month-and-a-half. We played good at home before we came on the road, so we’re looking at hopefully regaining that momentum.”