The Florida Panthers have surged into contention for a wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference.
They’ll try to collect two more valuable points when they visit the Detroit Red Wings on Monday night.
Florida is 5-0-1 over its past six games, including a 4-2 victory Saturday over New Jersey.
The Panthers (35-27-7, 77 points) are in third place in the race for the conference’s two wild-card berths. Florida trails the New York Islanders by three points in the chase and the Pittsburgh Penguins by one point.
Sam Reinhart scored two goals to lead Florida past New Jersey on Saturday.
“This is the most fun time to play,” he said. “The atmosphere (Saturday), you could sense it right from the start. The fans know what position we’re in. We’re enjoying the battle. It was nice to get that (win) on home ice.”
The Devils scored both of their goals in the second period to take a 2-0 lead. Florida roared back in the final 20 minutes, with Matthew Tkachuk’s 32nd goal of the season, at the 8:44 mark, proving to be the game-winner. Reinhart clinched the victory with an empty-netter with 21 seconds to play.
“When we get the momentum, we’ve got to keep it as long as possible because we seem to thrive off it,” Tkachuk said. “We all love playing here. Momentum was big for us. The fans were great. They got loud in the third.”
Most of the people in the building on Monday will be rooting against the Panthers. They’ll have to get used to it, as the game begins a stretch in which they’ll play six of eight games on the road.
“We like where our game’s at,” Florida coach Paul Maurice said. “We’re playing hard and playing smart. We have four lines that can play and contribute.”
The Red Wings (30-29-9, 69 points) have lost nine of their past 11 games to drop out of postseason contention.
The only positive development from their 5-1 loss to Colorado on Saturday was the debut of defenseman Simon Edvinsson.
Edvinsson was the sixth overall pick of the 2021 draft. He played 15:34 after getting called up from the American Hockey League’s Grand Rapids Griffins. Ben Chiarot suffered an upper-body injury earlier in the week, opening a roster spot.
“For the most part, you didn’t see the egregious turnover,” Detroit coach Derek Lalonde said. “He was physical, he had some chances following the rush. For a first game, against a team like that, I thought he did really well. It gets me excited, optimistic, going forward.”
The Wings were down 3-1 against defending Stanley Cup champion Colorado entering the third period Saturday. The Avalanche then scored two goals 56 seconds apart to take total control.
“That’s a special team,” Lalonde said. “You can see them gearing it up, if you will. They get their injured guys back and slot them in correctly, they’re going to have a real good chance to do it again. It was a great challenge for our team as a whole, and for the most part, we handled it real well.”
The Panthers will aim to sweep the three-game season series with the Red Wings. Florida held Detroit to a combined three goals in the first two matchups, with Sergei Bobrovsky in goal both times.
–Field Level Media
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