“We were a little sloppy, a little slow on a lot of things early,” Panthers interim head coach Andrew Brunette said. “I think it took about 30-35 minutes to get dragged into the fight, and once we were in it we were fine. They were the most desperate team. They wanted it more.”
Following a pair of big stops by Spencer Knightthe Panthers went the other way with the puck and, after having his initial shot hit off the side of the net, Carter Verhaeghe jumped on the loose rubber and sent his next attempt past Logan Thompson to make it 1-0 at 8:04 of the first period.
Kept mostly in check by Knight throughout the first period, Vegas finally got one past the rookie thanks to a whole lot of puck luck when, following a turnover at the blue line, Brett Howden sent a pass into that slot that clipped off a defender and sailed into the twine to make it 1-1 at 17:09.
Putting the Knights back on top in the second period, Evgenii Dadonov, who suited up in 280 career games with the Panthers, flew into the offensive zone, dashed from the right circle into the slot and unleashed a wicked wrist shot into the far side of the cage to make it 2-1 at 5:58.
Extending the lead on the power play, Dadonov scored again at 14:32 to make it 3-1.
“They pressured hard,” Panthers forward Eetu Luostarinen said. “We just have to play a little tighter.”
Making it a one-goal game heading into the second intermission, Sam Bennett swept a pass from Anthony Duclair past Thompson for his 25th goal of the campaign to make it 3-2 at 17:38.
Briefly evening things up in the third period, Sam Reinhart deftly tipped in a point shot from Aaron Eckblad on the power play to make it 3-3 at 12:26. But less than a minute later, Nicolas Roy used his backhand to beat Knight on a breakaway to put Vegas back on top 4-3 at 13:23.
With the Panthers pulling their goaltender for a 6-on-5 advantage, William Karlsson sat a long shot into the abandoned cage to lock in the 5-3 win for the Knights with 1:50 left on the clock.
Closing out their trip, the Cats will visit the Ducks on Friday.
“In the first period, they came out pretty hot,” said Ekblad, summarizing the loss. “We knew they were going to be a desperate team and play hard. We did a good job tying it up, and once we did we lost it. I thought we fought hard in the third to come back. Road games are never easy. We’re on a long, hard road trip. Our focus shifts to tomorrow and trying to find a way to win.”
Here are five takeaways from Thursday’s loss in Sin City…
If at first you don’t succeed, just shoot the puck again.
After sending the puck off the side of the net while fending off a defend, Verhaeghe followed the biscuit and cashed in on his second look to give the Panthers a 1-0 lead in the first period.
Video: FLA@VGK: Verhaeghe jams home loose puck down low
Carrying a hot stick in March, Verhaeghe has lit the lamp five times over his last six games. Reaching new heights during his second season in South Florida, the versatile winger has already set new career-bests in goals (21), assists (26) and points (46) through 60 games.
When he was on the ice tonight, Florida led 20-12 in shot attempts.
Move over, Robert Svehla.
With three assists against the Knights, Ekblad tied and then moved past Svehla, who suited up in Florida from 1994-2002, for the most points by a defenseman in franchise history with 291.
“It’s been a fun ride so far,” said Ekblad, who was taken first overall in the 2014 NHL Draft. “No regrets. I’ve learned a lot along the way. I wouldn’t be anywhere near [that record] without my teammates. As much as it is an individual accomplishment, it’s a team accomplishment.”
In the midst of the best season of his career, Ekblad ranks fifth among NHL defensemen with a career-high 57 points (15 goals, 42 assists). With six more points, the 26-year-old will break the franchise record for most points in a season by a blueliner, which Keith Yandle owns with 62.
“For me, it’s always his hunger and his competitiveness,” Brunette said when asked about Ekblad. “He wants to be a great player, and he’s proving he’s a great player. He’s very underrated defensively, he probably does n’t get the credit he deserves. He’s been tremendous.”
3. BENNY BURIES ONE
Bennett brought some of his home cooking on the road.
Leading the Cats with 19 goals at home, the grizzled forward netted his sixth goal on the road when swept a pass from Duclair past Thompson to trim the deficit to 3-2 in the second period.
Video: FLA@VGK: Bennett taps home Duclair’s feed in front
trailing-only Alexander Barkov on the team’s goal-scoring leaderboard with a career-high 25, Bennett’s tally also gave him new career-best point total of 36. Not just a goal-scorer, he also chipped in two hits, two blocked shots and went 11-for -15 (73.3%) in the faceoff dot in Vegas.
4. SUPREME KING
Reinhart has become the king of the creation. Tallying his third goal on the power play in his last four games, the crafty forward showed off his elite hand-eye coordination when he tipped in shot from Ekblad to make it 3-3 in the third period.
Video: FLA@VGK: Reinhart tips-in Ekblad’s shot for PPG
“He’s done a great job,” Ekblad said of Reinhart. “He’s contributing in multiple ways.”
Shining bright during his first season in South Florida, the former Sabers star ranks third on the Panthers in scoring with 59 points (23 goals, 36 assists) in 58 games. Earning at least one point in 14 of his last 17 games, he’s racked up 11 goals and 11 assists during that red-hot stretch.
5.ONE TO GO
The Panthers are heading back to California.
After claiming three out of a six possible points against Los Angeles, San Jose and Vegas, the Panthers will close out their four-game swing out West with a quick stop in Anaheim on Friday.
Coming home after that, they’ll then have a few days of practice before heading to Canada.
Ramping up their game on the road in 2022, the Panthers, who lead the league with 26 wins on home ice, have gone 11-4-2 while outscoring the opposition 64-50 on the road since Jan. 1.
“Our focus is to be a better road team, and we’ve done a good job of that in the second half of the year,” Ekblad said. “Like I said, our focus shifts to tomorrow, coming out with a strong effort.”