Florida Panthers

The Panthers played ‘desperate’ late on the road. The goal now: Quicker starts

Florida Panthers right wing Brett Connolly (10) celebrates with teammates after scoring a second goal in the second period of an NHL hockey game against the New Jersey Devils, Monday, Oct. 14, 2019, in Newark, N.J.
Florida Panthers right wing Brett Connolly (10) celebrates with teammates after scoring a second goal in the second period of an NHL hockey game against the New Jersey Devils, Monday, Oct. 14, 2019, in Newark, N.J. AP

Watch the Florida Panthers at work during the third periods over their just-finished three-game road trip, and see what they look like at their best.

The final tally: A combined 6-1 scoring advantage in the final 20-minute period during those three contests. An offensive-minded attack. A team that looks the part.

Ultimately, how the Panthers would like to be playing from start to finish.

The problem?

This surge, this heightened level of play, has occurred primarily after the Panthers put themselves into an early hole. They rallied from deficits against the Buffalo Sabres and New York Islanders to force overtime and eventually game-losing shootouts and scored five unanswered goals — including three in the third period — in Monday’s 6-4 win over the winless New Jersey Devils.

The late efforts allowed the Panthers to return home with four out of a possible six points.

“It’s extremely positive that we were able to come out of those holes and create points almost out of nothing,” defenseman Aaron Ekblad said. “It’s obviously not a position we want to be in going forward. We want to play with the lead, keep the lead and show we’re resilient in that way as well.”

As they prepare for a rare early-season home game against the Colorado Avalanche on Friday, what will it take for the Panthers to play like this for a full 60 minutes?

Play with the same mentality, regardless of the score.

“I think we started playing a little more desperate,” forward Mike Hoffman said after the team’s shootout loss in Buffalo. “I think we started to play the way we intend to the whole game. We were getting pucks on net, starting to hold onto pucks and making plays.”

The play-making potential is evident.

Watch Hoffman take a pass from Evgenii Dadonov, fake a shot and then fire the puck from the right circle past Sabres goaltender Linus Ullmark for a tying goal with 10.9 seconds left in regulation on Friday. Hoffman leads the Panthers and is tied for eighth in the NHL with five goals.

Watch Dadonov, essentially benched after the first period of their last home game before the trip through New York and New Jersey, record a goal and an assist in all three games of the road trip while working on a different line each game. He is back on the top line with center Aleksander Barkov and left wing Jonathan Huberdeau.

“He moved well,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “He’s hitting some holes offensively. I like how he can shoot through traffic — and it’s a dangerous shoot as well. I think as a line, that [top] line, once we have the puck a little bit more, that’s only going to enhance our possession game and be generating a little bit more.”

Watch Noel Acciari, the center of the Panthers’ fourth line, fire a straight-on shot from near center ice against the Devils to give the Florida the go-ahead goal in its first road win of the season on Monday.

Watch Sergei Bobrovsky stop all seven third-period shots — and four in a span of 90 seconds in overtime against Buffalo — that come his way in his two starts on the road trip. On Monday, he kept the Devils scoreless for the final 38:52 while the Panthers offense came to life.

“I think that gave us good confidence, good momentum,” Bobrovsky said. “It’s a big comeback, a huge two points.”

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Now, the Panthers aim to create a win streak as they host the Avalanche (5-0-1), who lost their first game of the season to the Pittsburgh Penguins, 3-2 in overtime, on Wednesday.

Colorado, which reached the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs last season, remains the only team that has yet to lose a game in regulation this year and has outscored opponents 24-15 through six games.

“They’re off to the best start in the game,” Quenneville said. “It should be a good test for us.”

Jordan McPherson covers the Miami Marlins and high school sports for the Miami Herald. He attended the University of Florida and covered the Gators athletic program for five years before joining the Herald staff in December 2017.