Sergei Bobrovsky solid in return, but Panthers drop third straight with shootout loss

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Sergei Bobrovsky returned to the ice for the first time in a week and the Florida Panthers played (relatively speaking) cleaner in front of their goaltender than they had in the first two games of this road trip.

The result: A point but another defeat.

The Panthers lost 3-2 to the Pittsburgh Penguins in a shootout on Thursday. The Panthers (10-2-2) have now lost three consecutive games after also falling to the New York Rangers on Monday and the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday to begin this four-game road trip.

Bryan Rust and Jeff Carter scored in the shootout round for Pittsburgh (5-3-4). Jonathan Huberdeau was the only one to score for the Panthers.

Bobrovsky, who was undefeated in his first six starts before sustaining an upper-body injury on Nov. 4 against the Washington Capitals, stopped 29 of 31 shots he faced on Thursday after missing the last three games.

“It was definitely nice to be back, nice to compete with the guys,” Bobrovsky said. “It was a great game. It was a fun game. That was a great point for us, a big point. It could have been two points, but it was one point. We’ll move on.”

Prior to the game, interim coach Andrew Brunette said Bobrovsky was “playing at such a high level, kind of that Vezina quality that historically you’re used to seeing him play.”

The numbers back that up. Bobrovsky’s .948 save percentage entering Thursday ranked second among goaltenders who have faced at least 100 shots against so far this season. His 1.72 goals allowed average entering the day was the fourth-best in the NHL.

It was more of the same from Bobrovsky against the Penguins, who were only able to score twice despite having 15 high-danger chances.

Among his highlights:

He stopped two breakaways from Jeff Carter and Jake Guentzel within a span of 45 seconds late in the first period.

About three minutes later, Carter slipped behind the defense on the power play but Bobrovsky made back-to-back saves in front of the net to help kill the penalty and keep the game tied heading into the first intermission.

Bobrovsky stopped all eight shots that came his way while the Penguins were on the power play, including five high-danger chances. The highlight: A third-period glove save on a high wrist shot from Bryan Rust at the end of a 13-second flurry in which Pittsburgh had two shots on net, a third that went wide and a fourth that was blocked.

And he held on strong with about a minute and a half left in overtime when Guentzel collided with him trying to make a play in front of the net.

“Bob was great,” Brunette said. “He’s back to where he was before he got kind of banged up. He definitely kept us in the game in those flurries.”

The two goals he gave up: A Teddy Blueger tip-in in the first period with traffic in front of the net and an Evan Rodrigues snap shot from the slot on a breakaway late in the second period created by a Panthers turnover in the offensive zone.

The Panthers offense, meanwhile, looked like the high-octane group that played a big part in Florida winning its first nine games and picking up points in a franchise-record 11 consecutive games to start the season. Florida had a 38-31 advantage in shots on goal Thursday.

Frank Vatrano and Aleksander Barkov scored the Panthers’ two goals. Vatrano took a pass on an odd-man rush from rookie Anton Lundell and sent a wrist shot past Pittsburgh goaltender Tristan Jarry late in the first period. Barkov’s team-leading ninth goal of the season came 2:30 into the third period, a snap shot from the slot on a feed from Carter Verhaeghe to tie the game at 2-2.

Florida had a potential go-ahead goal from Anthony Duclair with 4:45 left in regulation overturned because Barkov was declared offside after a Pittsburgh challenge.

“We were skating and creating opportunities,” Verhaeghe said. “We’ve still got more to give, but it’s definitely a building block. We’re still a good team. We know we’re a great team.”

Hornqvist homecoming

There were certainly a lot of emotions for Patric Hornqvist to play through on Thursday.

It marked the first time Hornqvist had played at PPG Paints Arena since the Penguins traded him to the Panthers on Sept. 24, 2020.

Hornqvist played six seasons for the Penguins and won a pair of Stanley Cups with the club in 2016 and 2017.

The Penguins played a video tribute for him midway through the first period, with the crowd giving him a standing ovation afterward.

Up next

The Panthers close their week-long, four-game road trip against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday. Florida won its first game against Tampa Bay this year, a 4-1 victory at Amalie Arena on Oct. 19.