Florida Panthers

Panthers let 2-0 lead slip away in loss to Stars

Stars left wing Antoine Roussel, left, bats the puck while being checked by Panthers defenseman Willie Mitchell in Saturday’s game.
Stars left wing Antoine Roussel, left, bats the puck while being checked by Panthers defenseman Willie Mitchell in Saturday’s game. AP

The Panthers scored a pair of quick goals early in the second period, and things were looking good.

The Dallas Stars, however, only needed a slight opening to get back into the game and eventually take home a 4-2 victory over the Panthers on Saturday night at BB&T Center.

Florida, which won its first two games at home, watched a Jonathan Huberdeau turnover deep in the Dallas zone turn into the Stars’ first goal.

The Stars kicked off the third by scoring on a power-play chance to tie it, then won when Tyler Seguin knocked a loose puck past Roberto Luongo with 3:02 left. Dallas’ fourth goal came with an empty net.

“The disappointing part is you can’t give teams like this life,” defenseman Brian Campbell said. “We were rolling, up 2-0, and you want to keep them sleeping. But we kept turning pucks over, took some penalties. You want to put teams away, keep them quiet. We gave them opportunities to wake up.”

Said Panthers coach Gerard Gallant: “We let them get back in it. For much of the game, they were the better team and deserved to win. … But it’s tough to lose in the final 3 1/2 minutes of a game on basically a turnover play.”

The Panthers, who visit Dallas in a week, looked to take a 1-0 lead early in the second when Sasha Barkov drilled a Huberdeau pass past a downed Kari Lehtonen.

Officials waved the goal off, citing interference on Jaromir Jagr — even though it was Huberdeau who made contact and initially knocked Lehtonen down.

Gallant got word from his off-ice coaching crew to use his challenge and have Hockey Central in Toronto review the play. After a lengthy review, the NHL decided Jagr didn’t interfere with Lehtonen and Barkov was given his goal and a 1-0 lead.

“I had no idea because I didn’t see it but looked at the [scoreboard] and figured it was going to count,” Gallant said. “My coaches told me to challenge it. I trust my people. Tonight we were right.”

Said Barkov: “I didn’t know what happened but saw the goalie scrambling and had an empty net so I had to score. Huberdeau said he didn’t touch the goalie so it was a good goal.”

Just over a minute later, Brandon Pirri scored his first of the season as he came in on a breakaway and beat Lehtonen fairly easily.

Pirri lost his balance after he took his shot and crashed into the back boards. Instead of celebrating, Pirri was helped off the ice and into the locker room. Pirri, who had 22 goals last season, returned to the game soon afterward.

“He’s fine,” Gallant said. “He came right back, hit the boards pretty hard, but he’s fine.”

Dallas apparently woke up later in the period as Huberdeau’s soft pass was picked off by Patrick Sharp and relayed to Seguin as he sped up the ice and beat Luongo (33 saves).

Seguin missed a good chunk of time during the playoff drive last season after injuring his knee on a hit by Dmitry Kulikov that earned the Florida defender a four-game suspension.

Dallas, missing its leading scorer, lost valuable real estate in the playoff race and missed the postseason.

Although Seguin said beating Florida wasn’t more special than any other game, he got some measure of revenge by scoring the game-winner late.

“They have some great forwards, and we knew that coming in,” Luongo said. “We had the 2-0 lead, but they made us pay, especially on that play at the end. When we scored our second goal, they really picked it up there. But it hurts to let one in at the end.”

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