The Florida Panthers know they’re a great team and they keep finding different ways to prove it.
They’ve strung together an eight-game winning streak and obliterated opponents at home. They’ve won more than 15 games by scoring at least four goals and even when scoring as few as two.
Now they’re doing it by stringing together comeback after comeback. Their come-from-behind win Saturday wasn’t quite as dramatic as their two others earlier in the week, but the Panthers’ 4-3, shootout win against the St. Louis Blues kept a thrilling winning streak going in Sunrise.
After storming back from three-goal deficits in each of the last two games, Florida (17-4-3) settled for a trio of one-goal comebacks Saturday, instead, to build on the best start in franchise history.
“We’re at our best when we come in waves,” said forward Sam Reinhart, who scored one of those game-tying goals.
The Panthers fell behind in all three periods, answered later in the period every time and finally forced overtime on forward Maxim Mamin’s second goal of the game with 2:34 left.
Florida outshot the Blues, 51-25, and finally pulled out its third straight win in a shootout when center Anton Lundell and Reinhart scored, and goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky stuffed St. Louis center Ryan O’Reilly’s final chance.
The Panthers now go on the road for five of their next seven games — and they have “got to be a little better on the road,” interim coach Andrew Brunette said — and take the league’s best record with them after taking six points out of a nearly winless homestand.
After losing its first home game of the season last Saturday to the Seattle Kraken, Florida came back from a three-goal deficit against the Washington Capitals on Tuesday, a three-goal deficit against the Buffalo Sabres on Thursday and three one-goal deficits against the Blues (12-8-4) on Saturday to keep a stranglehold on the best record in the league.
The Panthers already entered the weekend with the best points percentage in the NHL and the win, at least temporarily, vaulted Florida past the Toronto Maple Leafs into first place in the Atlantic Division.
“They’re taking it upon themselves to be a great team,” Brunette said. “We’re a quarter of the way through, there’s lots of work to do, but I think each day we’re putting another block in the foundation here to get better.”
The Panthers envisioned themselves as one of the best teams in the league in the preseason and solidified their status as a Stanley Cup contender by starting the year with eight straight wins. They boasted a trio of legitimate stars with center Aleksander Barkov, left wing Jonathan Huberdeau and Aaron Ekblad, but they always figured their depth would be their greatest asset.
In the last two and a half weeks, it has been tested more than ever. Barkov has missed the last eight games and Florida has won six of them, including three straight in dizzying comeback fashion, largely fueled by depth.
When they rallied from three down in the third period to beat the Capitals on Tuesday, the Panthers got a pair of goals from fourth-line forwards Ryan Lomberg and Eetu Luostarinen. When Florida came back from three down against the Sabres on Thursday, the comeback began with the first NHL goal from defenseman Lucas Carlsson.
On Saturday, Mamin, who has played in only nine NHL games this year, was the hero. He scored the Panthers’ first goal to tie the game 1-1 with 12:56 left in the first period and then he scored their last to force overtime.
With less than three minutes to go, Florida got an offensive-zone faceoff and finally Bobrovsky to the bench to get an extra attacker. Lundell won the faceoff in the left circle, knocked the puck to his right, and Mamin pounced for a rapid-fire one-timer to tie the game for the third and final time.
“I just heard the sound off the post,” the 26-year-old Russian said.
This was one goal too many for St. Louis to answer. The Panthers got to overtime, and eventually settled for a shootout after they couldn’t convert two and a half minutes of 4-on-3 action into a game-winning goal. Lundell opened the shootout with a goal, then Reinhart scored after the Blues equalized. O’Reilly barreled toward Bobrovsky for St. Louis’ final chance and the goaltender, who finished with 22 saves, made one more stop to seal another win.
Even without Barkov and first-line winger Anthony Duclair, the Panthers have the firepower to beat anyone and they know there’s another level they can still reach.
Soon, Barkov, Duclair and defenseman Gustav Forsling should all be back. In the meaintime, Florida is winning without them and learning more about itself with every victory.
“Everybody’s stepped up,” Brunette said. “That’s what good teams — and, hopefully, great teams — are able to do.”