Penguins edged by Panthers in opener of 3-game road trip
SUNRISE, Fla. – The Penguins’ 4-2 loss to the Florida Panthers on Tuesday at BB&T Center didn’t resemble their play for most of the past week.
For one, they lost. Last week, they surged to a tidy five-game winning streak despite a hamstrung lineup depleted by injuries.
But this game looked even different than their most recent contest, a 3-0 loss at home to the Vegas Golden Knights on Saturday.
They didn’t get the bounces in this contest which last week so conveniently went off an opponent’s skate or a stray stick or a scuffed-up cross bar.
In this contest, two such bounces really dictated the result.
The first one came midway through the second period. With game scoreless, Panthers forward Noel Acciardi gained the offensive zone at center point and fired a pedestrian wrister on net. Goaltender Matt Murray easily fought off the shot with his blocker but the rebound popped above him like a baseball. As it descended, Murray lost track of the puck and it bounced off the “3” on the back of his No. 30 jersey and into the net at the 10:54 mark.
Murray didn’t dodge responsibility for the flukiness of the play.
“It just took a funny bounce off my blocker, and I lost it,”said Murray, whose record dropped to 5-3-0. “That ends up being the difference in the game is the push they get after that. They kind of got the momentum from that. That’s on me. That was the difference in the game tonight I think.”
His coach had a more charitable assessment of the sequence.
“It’s a tough one,” said Mike Sullivan. “I don’t know how to explain that one. It’s a tough one. It’s a nothing play and it ends up in the back of our net.”
The Penguins needed only 63 seconds to put on in the Panthers net in response when Teddy Blueger tapped in a forehand shot off a give-and-go play with forward Jake Guentzel.
The Panthers reclaimed a lead at 18:00 of the second when Penguins forward Brandon Tanev and Blueger combined for a turnover at their own left point. That allowed Panthers forward Jonathan Huberdeau to claim the puck and deal a pass from the slot to the left circle, where forward Denis Malgin chopped a one-timer past the blocker of Murray.
The Penguins were in position to tie the game again with a power-play when Panthers defenseman Anton Stralman was nabbed for tripping at 10:49 of the third. After the Penguins’ first power-play squad struggled to even get the puck up ice, the second unit established possession in the offensive zone and nearly scored. Defenseman Marcus Pettersson fired a slapper off the right half wall, which goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky denied. On the ensuing rebound, forward Zach Aston-Reese lifted a backhander on a seemingly wide-open cage but hit the right post at the 12:30 mark.
“It feels like the same story as Winnipeg,” Aston-Reese said of a potential game-tying goal he missed with a post shot in a 4-1 home loss to the Jets on Oct. 8. “A chance to tie it up and some bad luck.”
The Panthers’ fortunes were far better as Huberdeau scored the eventual game-winning goal on a tip-in 72 seconds later.
A goal by forward Patric Hornqvist at 14:25 of the third pulled the Penguins to within one but an empty-net score by Frank Vatrano at 18:57 secured the victory.
Regardless of the result or the validity of any sort of puck luck, the Penguins, who had Jared McCann return to the lineup after missing Saturday’s contest due to an undisclosed injury, emerged from this game satisfied with their effort.
“We played a hard game,” Hornqvist said. “It was a tight and fast game out there. We made a few mistakes there. We have to make sure late in periods and early in the periods, we can’t turn the puck over and give them easy chances. That’s what happened on the second goal there. They got momentum then we were behind after that. We tried to get it (back), but it came a little late. But I like our effort. We have to clean up some areas. It was a good game by two pretty good teams.”
Seth Rorabaugh is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Seth by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .