The Florida Panthers headed to Vancouver looking to end their five-game losing streak but fell short in a 5-1 loss to the Canucks on Sunday evening.
There was a sense of anticipation to the game before the puck was even dropped. Whether it was because of Roberto Luongo was making his yearly return to Vancouver or the residual effects from the previous meeting, that saw Panthers defender Mike Matheson injure Canucks rookie Elias Pettersson, the crowd and both teams were engaged early on.
The two squads traded chances early in the first period with the Panthers getting notable high-end chances from Nick Bjugstad and Jared McCann. The Canucks got some opportunities after a Keith Yandle pass that went off Luongo and then a defensive pinch off in offensive zone for Aaron Ekblad.
Luongo was up to the task on both forays and both stops were welcomed with a boisterous cheer from the Vancouver crowd, despite it being a save for the visiting team. Those cheers continued throughout the entire game as the local crowd showed their appreciation for the goaltender that appeared in 448 regular season games in Canucks colours.
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During the entire first period, the Canucks were trying to challenge Matheson to drop the gloves as a way to settle the score from the October hit but the Panther ended up declining all invites for a tussle.
Despite Matheson not engaging, former Florida Panthers defender Erik Gudbranson and Michael Haley engaged in a long bout with 2:29 left in the first period.
Neither team seemed to get a noticeable jump from that first-period fight but the turnovers continued for Panthers and eventually proved costly.
At the 12:32 mark of the middle frame, with Mike Hoffman retreating to his own zone after losing control of the puck in the offensive zone, he tried to flip the puck across the ice to his teammate. That was read and knocked out of the air by Canucks forward Loui Eriksson, who was able to out wait Luongo with the puck and put the Canucks up 1-0.
If there was one bright spot for the Panthers in the first two periods, it was Luongo’s play. The Canucks had multiple high danger chances but Luongo was able to turn them aside and kept the Panthers down by only one after two periods.
For the second game in a row, the Panthers shuffled their lines mid-game looking for a change in play.
A few minutes into the third period, the Panthers were able to draw even on the power-play as Frank Vatrano picked the top corner with the backhander.
The Panthers seemed to be turning the tide in play before Matheson iced the puck with just under 13 minutes left. The resulting faceoff saw Canucks defenceman Ben Hutton putting home a rebound to put the Canucks back up 2-1 with 12:40 remaining.
Despite having the game within reach for the remainder of the game, the Panthers were unable to generate many chances to draw even. They pulled Luongo with over two minutes left in the game, and as a result, the Canucks were able to get empty net goals from Brock Boeser and Jay Beagle to put them up by a 4-1 score. With eleven seconds left in the game, a defensive zone breakdown resulted in Markus Granlund putting the Canucks up 5-1.
Before the puck was dropped to run out the clock, the Panthers’frustrations boiled over and both teams engaged in some pushing and shoving but that final score of 5-1 held up.
The Panthers played well throughout the first period and at times during the third period. The game was close until the goalie was pulled and then the score got away from them. Following the game, head coach Bob Boughner remarked about Luongo’s play and the big guns of the Panthers not stepping up.
“Lu, I thought was really good tonight, he gave us a chance with a great performance” Bougner said. “Some of the big boys had bad games. You can’t win if your best players aren’t your best players.”
It’s clear that the Panthers are struggling to fire on all cylinders at this moment and will likely need those aforementioned big boys to step up if the club hopes to snap this losing streak.
The Panthers will look to put this game behind them and snap their six-game` losing skid with a Tuesday night affair in Montreal against the Canadiens.