It was the Florida Panthers’ biggest test in a slew of big tests to start the season.
And they let it slip away against the Washington Capitals.
A two-goal lead — one that came after falling behind less than 30 seconds into regulation — vanished midway through the second period.
Another lead faded early in the third period.
And they missed on their one chance in overtime.
In the end, it was a 5-4 loss to the Capitals on Thursday at the BB&T Center.
Tom Wilson scored the game-winning goal 17 seconds into the three-on-three, sudden death overtime period.
“We had a real good start to the game. We did some good things,” Panthers coach Joel Quenneville said. “... As the game got deeper, we didn’t have the puck as much as we did [early on]. ... And that’s a dangerous team.”
Even in the loss, Florida had another solid showing against one of the NHL’s best early in the season.
Thursday was the Panthers’ 10th game against a team that entered the day in Stanley Cup Playoffs positioning. Florida is 4-2-4 in those games.
The Panthers are 7-3-5 overall and has picked up at least one point for the 11th time in the past 12 games. The Capitals improved to 12-2-3.
And Florida never backed down until it was out of opportunities.
Washington’s John Carlson scored 25 seconds into the game to put the Panthers in the early hole.
Their response: an unassisted Frank Vatrano goal 90 seconds later. Brett Connolly, who spent the last three seasons with the Capitals before signing with the Panthers this offseason, put the Panthers in the lead with about five-and-a-half minutes left in the first period when a long shot from defenseman Anton Stralman deflected off Connolly’s stick and past goaltender Braden Holtby.
An Aleksander Barkov goal 30 seconds into the second period — Barkov’s third goal in as many games — gave the Panthers a two-goal lead before the Capitals mounted a comeback led by Alex Ovechkin.
The 15-year NHL veteran scored twice in a span of six minutes — first on a power play goal and then on a shot that bounced off Panthers goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, then Panthers defenseman MacKenzie Weegar’s stick and into the net — to tie the game at 3-3.
The Panthers’ response: An Evgenii Dadonov power play goal on a Jonathan Huberdeau behind-the-net pass with 1:01 left in the middle stanza.
Wilson evened the game once more 44 seconds into the third period before both goaltenders combined for 23 saves over the remainder of the period to set up the game-defining overtime period.
Holtby stopped Aaron Ekblad’s wrist shot 11 seconds into the frame. Wilson scored six seconds later.
The Capitals executed.
The Panthers had no rally this time.
Second-line center Vincent Trocheck (lower body) missed his seventh consecutive game, third line winger Jayce Hawryluk remains out with an upper body injury and Noel Acciari missed his first game of the season with a lower body injury.
Trocheck and Acciari are considered day-to-day. Hawryluk is expected to be out until early December.
Meanwhile, defenseman Mike Matheson returned after missing the past five games with a lower body injury.
New man on the fourth line
With the Panthers missing yet another forward in Acciari, the club called up Dominic Toninato from their the Springfield Thunderbirds, their American Hockey League affiliate. Toninato centered the Panthers’ fourth line on Thursday, teaming up with wingers Colton Sceviour and Dryden Hunt.
Toninato, 25, impressed the Panthers’ coaching staff during training camp and was one of the final cuts before opening night. The 6-2, 191-pound forward recorded two goals and six assists in 12 games with Springfield.
Thursday was Toninato’s 40th career NHL game, with the rest of his experience coming with the Colorado Avalanche before being traded to the Panthers this summer.
The Panthers now head on a three-game road trip and play the New York Islanders on Saturday, the New York Rangers on Sunday and the Boston Bruins on Tuesday.