Panthers aim for playoffs without thinking of playoffs
The Florida Panthers are running out of time in their quest to make the postseason and aren't even looking at the wild-card standings these days.
Florida (30-27-12) starts a three-game West Coast swing in San Jose against the Sharks on Thursday as part of a four-game road trip. And the Panthers are coming off arguably two of their best performances of the season.
Over the weekend the Panthers routed the Minnesota Wild and Detroit Red Wings in 6-2 and 6-1 games, respectively, and 22-year-old rookie goaltender Sam Montembeault won both contests while top-liners Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov kept racking up points.
Huberdeau has 22 points (nine goals, 13 assists) in his last 13 games and was named the NHL's First Star of the Week. Team captain Barkov scored his career-high 30th tally against Detroit and has 24 points (11 goals, 13 assists) in his last 13 games.
Florida went 1-0-2 in last month's three-game West Coast roadie from Feb. 25-28, losing the last two games after losing late leads. After two more overtime losses in the ensuing three games to Carolina and Pittsburgh, Florida appeared to be headed to a win in Boston last Thursday, but the Bruins scored two goals in the final minute of regulation to steal two points.
"We were disappointed in Boston, but we played a great game. If you look at the last road trip, we lost some games in shootouts and overtimes," said Florida coach Bob Boughner. "We played some great hockey. No matter what the standings look like, we're going to keep pressing to the end and see how it looks."
The Sharks (43-19-8) used a pair of time-tested assets in Winnipeg on Tuesday that resulted in San Jose's sixth straight win: Go to the net if Joe Thornton is on the ice with you and don't ever feel like there's not enough time remaining to pull out a win.
San Jose took a third-period lead against the Jets when Marcus Sorensen drove to the front of the net in the first two minutes and scored on Thornton's slick feed from behind the goal, making a comeback complete from being down 3-2.
Thornton's assist in the first period elevated the center into a higher category. His 1,057th helper pushed him to 1,468 career points and past Stan Mikita into sole possession of 14th place on the NHL's all-time points list.
Winnipeg tied the game on a late deflection, but defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic broke up a late scoring chance for the Jets, and Timo Meier collected the puck and took off on a lengthy 2-on-1 the other way.
Meier's neat saucer pass to Joe Pavelski led to the club's top scorer potting the game-winner on his 37th goal with just five seconds remaining to give San Jose a stunning win in perhaps its most dramatic victory of the season.
Meier (five goals, two assists) and Tomas Hertl (three goals, four assists) each extended their point streaks to six games in the win.
Thornton's accomplishments did not faze the 22-year veteran. He humbly stated after the thrilling comeback win that the players surrounding him in the record book have a loftier status than he.
"I've said this with numerous guys, I don't deserve to be up there with these type of guys. When you mention these names, it's mind-boggling. I shouldn't be up there," said Thornton, 39.
--Field Level Media
Updated March 13, 2019