Florida Panthers

Florida Panthers’ late push not enough in 3-2 loss to Avalanche

Colorado Avalanche left wing Gabriel Landeskog, front, of Sweden, scores a goal past Florida Panthers goalie Roberto Luongo in the first period of an NHL hockey game Thursday, March 3, 2016, in Denver.
Colorado Avalanche left wing Gabriel Landeskog, front, of Sweden, scores a goal past Florida Panthers goalie Roberto Luongo in the first period of an NHL hockey game Thursday, March 3, 2016, in Denver. AP

The Panthers threw everything they had at Colorado goalie Calvin Pickard in the third period Thursday night yet nothing found the back of the net.

Despite 24 shots in the final 20 minutes, Florida couldn’t overcome a two-goal deficit in a tough 3-2 loss to the Avalanche at Pepsi Center.

Because of the loss, Florida will be looking up at someone else atop the Atlantic Division for the first time since Jan. 2.

Tampa Bay — which has won its past eight — and Florida both have 80 points, yet the Lightning win the first tiebreaker and therefore are in first with the Panthers in second.

Colorado stayed behind Minnesota in its fight for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.

“You could see it, it was like a playoff game,’’ said Jaromir Jagr, who tied Gordie Howe for third on the NHL’s all-time points list with his first period assist.

“They played like it was the playoffs and we matched them in the second and third. But we didn’t in the first. Their life is on the edge, they’re eighth or ninth. We have to play the same way or we’re not going to win.”

Florida outshot the Avs 24-8 in the third yet didn’t score.

“Their goalie played really well, we had a lot of good chances in the second and third and just couldn’t score,” Sasha Barkov said.

“We need to play the same way we were when we were winning games, get that confidence back. We need to get to the playoffs. That’s our main goal.’’

The Panthers started the third down 3-2 but with a full two-minute power play after Tyson Barrie was flagged for hooking at the end of the second.

Florida looked like a new team in the mile-high altitude, coming at Pickard with a vengeance.

In the first half of the third period, Florida was outshooting the playoff-bubble Avs 20-4.

The Panthers had 16 shots in the first and second combined.

“We got in a lot of trouble, were turning over pucks and got outplayed for about the first 25 minutes,’’ coach Gerard Gallant said.

“But we played pretty hard in the second and it was a good third for us. But their goalie battled hard. You have to play 60 minutes. I hope we play more of a north-south game like we late in the game. We had a lot of opportunity, we just couldn’t find the back of the net.”

A number of veteran players weren’t happy with Florida falling behind three different times at 1-0, 2-1 and 3-1 before battling back.

Jagr got his 1,850th career point on Erik Gudbranson’s goal midway through the first but was in mood to enjoy the moment.

“We lost the game,’’ said Jagr, who had three of his four shots on goal in the third period.

“If you don’t play good in the first 20 minutes ... We always had good starts and now, for whatever reason, the other team is doing it.’’

After Colorado took a 1-0 lead 5:45 in when Gabriel Landeskog walked through the Florida defense and beat Roberto Luongo top shelf, the Panthers tied it on Gudbranson’s one-timer of a Barkov feed.

The Avs retook the lead when Mikkel Boedker — whom the Panthers had some interest in before the trade deadline — scored.

Florida trailed 3-1 early in the second yet pulled back within a goal when Brian Campbell scored with 7:18 left.

Despite hogging up most of the possession time in the third and spending much of the period in the Colorado zone, Florida just couldn’t find the equalizer.

“Seriously, early in the third, we felt like we were going to win that game,” Gallant said. “Every thing had been going our way. We just couldn’t find one.”

Luongo, who ended with 23 saves, made a number of outstanding stops in the third including a fine glove save on Nathan MacKinnon’s penalty shot with 6:45 remaining.

“Obviously I was trying to give the boys a chance, we were all over them in the third,’’ Luongo said.

“It’s tough to dig a hole and come back every night. It was a tough first period for all of us, myself included. I need to be better on those goals. Dig a hole, it’s hard to come back in this legaue.’’

Florida traveled to the Phoenix area following Thursday’s game and will have newcomer Teddy Purcell at practice Friday in Glendale, Arizona.

Purcell landed at Denver International about an hour before the game started Thursday, but he didn’t arrive at Pepsi Center until midway through the first period.

Purcell had been stuck in Winnipeg since Florida’s 3-2 win there on Tuesday because of work visa issues. Purcell, a Canadian native, was finally approved Thursday afternoon and allowed to enter the United States.

▪ Although Jagr wasn’t in the mood to talk about his big assist Thursday, Barkov summed things up succinctly.

“It’s an amazing accomplishment,’’ the 20-year-old Barkov said. “He has so many points in his career and has a lot coming. He’s a great player and it’s an honor to play with him on the same team and on the same line.”

George Richards: 305-376-4995, @GeorgeRichards

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