Panthers’ plummet continues with fourth straight loss in Ottawa, making playoffs unlikely

The Florida Panthers dug too big a hole and couldn’t climb out of it.

It’s both what happened Monday in their 5-2 loss to the Ottawa Senators in Canada and, almost certainly, their season. A massively disappointing start to the 2022-23 NHL season now has the Panthers are on the verge of missing the 2023 Stanley Cup playoffs, even after they regrouped for a bit in the middle of the year.

Almost all the work they did throughout January and February, however, has been undone in the last week. Florida has lost four in a row — its longest losing streak of the season — and sits multiple points and now sits three points out of playoff position with only eight games left in the regular season.

As recently as last week, the Panthers (36-31-7) controlled their own postseason destiny. Now even Florida goes undefeated the rest of the way, it would still need the Penguins or Islanders to lose multiple games to sneak into the Stanley Cup playoffs.

This is all happening just a year after the Panthers won the Presidents’ Trophy for the first time in franchise history and traded away multiple first-round picks — including theirs for the upcoming 2023 NHL Entry Draft — to chase Stanley Cups.

There were flashes of their potential at times this year, particularly in the last month even. From March 4-20, Florida won 6 of 7 — with an overtime loss as the only defeat — to move back into playoff position, with a fully healthy lineup leading wins against some of the best teams in the league like the Golden Knights and Devils. A few days later, Florida lost center Sam Bennett to an injury and has now lost four in a row, including games to the lowly Flyers and now the Senators (36-33-5) in Ottawa.

In all four of the games on this skid, the Panthers have found themselves behind by multiple goals, even before opponents scored against an empty net. In the most recent one, the most penalized team in the NHL gave up three power-play goals to dash any hopes at a comeback.

On Monday in Ontario, Florida was down 2-0 before the end of the first period. All-Star left wing Brady Tkachuk scored in the first 10 minutes after a defensive breakdown left him open near the right face-off circle and then Senators defenseman Erik Brannstrom went coast to coast for a power-play goal with 1:05 left in the period to put Ottawa up 2-0. Even after the Panthers answered with a goal by defenseman Gustav Forsling in the second, the Senators again scored — again on a power play — before the end of the period to take a 3-1 lead into the third.

Florida did make one final push and get another goal from Forsling with 10:45 remaining, but the 16,047 at the Canadian Tire Centre finally could celebrate when Ottawa forward Tim Stutzle scored one last power-play goal with 2:33 remaining.