For a span of about 30 minutes on Monday, the Florida Panthers appeared that the end of their first road trip would be a dud, doomed by carelessness in the all-important area of puck management, an area that threatened to overshadow a highlight on the game’s first shift created by the reunification of the top line of Jonathan Huberdeau, Evgenii Dadonov and Aleksander Barkov.
By the end of the day, the mood was more jovial, evidenced by the music choice of “The Devil Went to Georgia” by the Charlie Daniels Band coming out of the locker room sound system and general manager Dale Tallon shaking hands and signing a young fan’s Vincent Trochek’s jersey.
Those scenes played out shortly after the Panthers completed an impressive comeback from a three-goal deficit by scoring five times in the final 30-plus minutes to get a 6-4 win over the winless New Jersey Devils.
“We’ve seen it in the last few games,” defenseman Aaron Ekblad said. “The resiliency to come back in all games and fighting to the end. I think that’s ingrained in just about every guy in here.
The Panthers pulled off their third straight comeback after taking shootout losses to the Buffalo Sabres and New York Islanders. The key difference this time was finishing in the final 20 minutes after getting things to turn back in their favor in the second.
“I think that we’ve had three third periods trailing on this trip and we’ve come up with points in all of them,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “So, I would say it turned out to be a good trip for us. A lot of positives things in that third period. I thought we might have played our best period.”
Brett Connolly started the comeback with two goals in the final 10:10 of the second to set the stage for a comeback. Then defenseman MacKenzie Weeger scored the tying goal 30 seconds into the third on a slap shot from the left point and took the shot that Noel Acciari deflected in for the game-winner with 12 1/2 minutes left.
And for good measure Weeger drew the high-sticking double minor on Jesper Boqvist, which eventually led to an impressive insurance goal by Dadonov, who put the finishing touches the comeback by scoring for the fourth straight game while diving to the ice in front of the net with about 4 1/2 minutes to go.
The Panthers overcame a deficit of at least three goals to win a regular-season game for the third time in team history and first instance since April 2, 2016 against Montreal. Before completing the comeback and enjoying the jovial moments, it was shaping up to be a disaster even it started off well on the game’s first shift.
On a sequence that made the Panthers appear as if they were on a Magic Johnson-led fast break in the mid-1980s, Dadonov threaded a nifty no-look backhand pass to Huberdeau, who easily scored his first goal of the season from close range.
After the early highlight the Panthers lost the lead a little over two minutes later.
Taylor Hall had plenty of time to lift a wrister from the middle of the slot over Sergei Bobrovsky moments after Trochek turned it over. With 47 seconds left in the first, a turnover by Anton Stralman led to Jesper Bratt’s goal for a 2-1 Devils lead.
Then before the Panthers could get their bearings in the second, they fell behind by three goals in a span of 36 seconds on Will Butcher’s high wrist shot 32 seconds in and Zacha’s tip-in into a vacated right side of the net.
Then Bobrovsky regained his footing and so did his teammates, resulting in the most impressive performance of the young season.
“There was no doubt that we were coming back,” Weeger said.