Saturday night, the Florida Panthers came back from down 3-0 to beat the Ottawa Senators 4-3 in a shootout. Following the road win, they improved to 44-14-6 on the season, good for first place in the Eastern Conference, four points ahead of the second-place Tampa Bay Lightning.
In the wake of Saturday’s comeback win in Ottawa, the Panthers also lead the league in victories in which they came back from a three-goal deficit, having accomplished the feat three times this season. In the history of the NHL, only three teams — the 1989-90 Detroit Red Wings, the 1983-84 Minnesota North Stars, and the 1983-84 Edmonton Oilers — had more such wins in a single season (they all had four).
Florida has rarely found itself losing by a large margin, but on three different occasions, the team has shown the fight and composure to dig itself out of a hole. Let’s take a look back at those three big comeback wins.
Nov. 30 vs. Washington
On Nov. 30, the Panthers, who were 14-4-3 at the time, hosted the 14-3-5 Washington Capitals in a marquee early-season matchup. Florida found itself in a 2-0 hole just over six minutes into the game after Connor McMichael and Beck Malenstyn scored just nine seconds apart (for Malenstyn, it was his first career NHL goal).
Joe Thornton got one back for the Panthers less than a minute later, but Washington struck back with goals by Lars Eller and Nick Jensen in the second period. The game entered the final period with the Capitals up 4-1, and Washington was also outshooting Florida 25-24.
The third period, though, was all Panthers. They cut the deficit to two on a Ryan Lomberg goal 3:23 into the frame, cut it to one on a Eetu Loustarinen shorthanded goal under three minutes later, then tied it at four on a Sam Bennett power-play goal 12:01 into the period. Finally, with Florida on the power play again, Sam Reinhart slammed home the game-winner 14.4 seconds before the final horn.
The win marked the fourth time in franchise history in which Florida overcame a third period deficit of three or more. The Panthers outshot Washington 27-2 in the final period, and notable performers included Aaron Ekblad and Jonathan Huberdeau, who each finished with three assists, along with Loustarinen and Lomberg, who each had a goal and an assist.
Dec. 2 vs. Buffalo
Florida’s second three-goal comeback win of the season was just two days after its first. The Panthers, now 15-4-3, hosted the Buffalo Sabres, who were 8-11-3 on the season 1-4-1 in their six previous games. Despite that, the Sabres jumped on the Panthers quickly.
Thanks to two Vinnie Hinostroza goals, as well as another from Dylan Cozens, Buffalo held a 3-0 lead going into the second period. Lucas Carlsson cut it to 3-1 9:57 into the frame, but Casey Mittelstadt answered less than two minutes later. That would cease the scoring for the Sabres.
The Panthers potted six unanswered goals to end the game. Reinhart and Ekblad got Florida within one going into the third period, then Ekblad tied it just over one minute into the final frame. Anton Lundell gave the Panthers the lead with 11:55 remaining. Huberdeau and Lundell tacked on empty-netters to finish off the 7-4 victory.
Huberdeau led all players with five points, four of them assists. Reinhart added three assists to finish with four points against his former team, and Ekblad also added an assist to his two goals. Spencer Knight, who played the final 28:44 after Sergei Bobrovsky was pulled, turned away all nine shots he faced.
March 26 at Ottawa
Then came Saturday night, when the first-place Panthers (43-14-6) battled the 23-36-5 Senators in Ottawa. First period goals from Alex Formenton and Artem Zub had the Senators up 2-0 after one, and Dylan Gambrell extended the lead to 3-0 6:47 into the second.
Unfortunately for Ottawa, the talented Panthers could only be held off for so long. Anthony Duclair got Florida on the board with a power-play goal 8:55 into the second period, then Patric Horqvist made it 3-2 just over a minute later. Finally, Barkov got the game-tying tally with 2:16 left in the third period.
Nobody scored in the overtime period, or in the first three attempts of the shootout. Then, Barkov broke through again to put the Panthers up, and Brady Tkachuk‘s attempt to extend the contest was saved by Bobrovsky. New arrival Claude Giroux led the team with two points on the night, both assists.
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With the talent and skill these Panthers have, no lead is safe, as they have evidenced on multiple occasions. While they probably won’t break the NHL record for three-goal comeback wins in a season (if only due to limited opportunities), they have shown that they are comfortable in any situation, whether it be a large lead or a large deficit.