As the Florida Panthers make their last trip up the Gulf Coast this regular season to face the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday, they realize time and games are running out.
In what many considered one of the biggest home games of the season Friday, Florida played without its top two centers, Aleksander Barkov and Sam Bennett. It fell to the hot Buffalo Sabres 3-1 and former Panthers goaltender Craig Anderson.
Anderson wore the Florida red from 2006-09 and went 24-14-7 on three mediocre Panthers teams. But he put on a playoff-caliber showing just a few miles from where he makes his home in nearby Parkland.
Desperate for two points in the wild-card playoff standings, Florida peppered Anderson with 50 shots, but only Carter Verhaeghe could get one by the 41-year-old backstop.
The defeat was a disappointing one for Florida. Not only did it deprive the Panthers of two points, it moved the Sabres two points ahead of them in the wild-card chase with 21 games left.
"This was a huge home game and it is really disappointing to have the first two periods like that," said Verhaeghe, who has a career-high 31 goals. "It sucks. We're in a playoff push and there is nothing we can do about it now."
While Florida played without its top two pivots, it did see the return of right winger Anthony Duclair, who had missed all season with a torn Achilles tendon. He earned the primary assist on Verhaeghe's tally.
With netminder Spencer Knight out indefinitely while being helped by the NHL/NHLPA player assistance program, Florida recalled Alex Lyon from AHL affiliate Charlotte to back up Sergei Bobrovsky.
The Lightning are 2-1-0 against their Atlantic Division rival this season and finished a two-game road trip at 1-1-0 after two polar-opposite results. After blanking the Detroit Red Wings 3-0 Saturday, the Lightning were upended 7-3 in Pittsburgh.
The Penguins scored five times against backup goalie Brian Elliott in less than 4 1/2 minutes of the second period.
"When it started unravel in those last five (minutes), I thought maybe we were feeling sorry for ourselves a little bit, and that's not been part of this team for a long time," coach Jon Cooper said, per the Tampa Bay Times. "That's something we don't do, so probably a little mental correction there for us. But we haven't really been a part of that before, so hopefully it's a one-off."
Despite that bitter loss, Tampa Bay is still getting elite play from No. 1 backstop Andrei Vasilevskiy.
He matched a team record with a 45-save shutout over the Red Wings on Saturday. That equaled Ben Bishop's 2013 effort at the Carolina Hurricanes and Daren Puppa's 1995 home outing against the Los Angeles Kings.
Help arrived for the Eastern Conference champions Sunday night in the form of physical forward Tanner Jeannot from the Nashville Predators, but it came at a high cost.
The Lightning sent defenseman Cal Foote, 24, and five draft picks to the Western Conference team -- a conditional 2025 first-round pick, a 2024 second-rounder and third-, fourth- and fifth-round selections this June.
Jeannot, 25, had 24 goals, 17 assists and 130 penalty minutes in 81 games last season. The native of Estevan, Saskatchewan, has just five goals and nine assists in 56 games so far this campaign.
--Field Level Media