Detroit — The Florida Panthers are arguably the best team in the NHL right now.
They have a deep, good blend of experience and youth, scoring depth, and could be peaking collectively as a roster at the right time for a long run late this season.
The Red Wings played a good game Friday at Little Caesars Arena, maybe well enough to win most nights, but couldn’t entirely match the Panthers, who won 3-2 in overtime.
Florida’s Aleksander Barkov scored at 3 minutes, 29 seconds of overtime after breaking free and getting a pass from Jonathan Huberdeau. Barkov scored his second of the game and fourth of the season, flipping a shot over goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic.
“That’s a good team over there, and we were good from start to finish and controlled the play pretty well,” Nedeljkovic said. “We stuck with it and got the early goal in the second period and guys were sacrificing their bodies in the third.
“We believe in ourselves and we know we can go out and win any night and tonight kind of shows it. We’re not going to roll over and it doesn’t matter what the score is, we’re going to play hard and play a full 60 (minutes) and give ourselves as good a chances as any.”
“It sucks to lose like that after battling so hard.”
The Panthers overcame the jolting news of Joel Quenneville leaving as head coach Thursday night (Quenneville was a key figure in the Chicago Blackhawks’ sexual assault scandal) and played another well-rounded game to stay undefeated through eight games. They are only the seventh team in NHL history to begin a season with eight consecutive victories.
But the Wings made it awfully tough for Florida.
Pius Suter tied it 2-2 at 17:19 of the third period with his first goal as a Wing.
Moritz Seider fired a shot from the point that Suter got his stick on in front of Panthers goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, and redirected into the net, after the Wings received a stirring defensive shift.
“It’s disappointing we didn’t get the two (points),” coach Jeff Blashill said. “We were in a spot to get the two. Down 2-0, we started playing better in the second (period). We started to have better pressure.”
A key turning point in this game was late in the third period, with the Wings scrambling defensively.
Nedeljkovic made several big saves and Adam Erne and Robby Fabbri laid out for big blocked shots on a stirring penalty kill with about five minutes left to play, energizing the LCA crowd.
The shift definitely seemed to inspire the Wings, with Suter eventually scoring.
“The crowd was awesome, guys were sacrificing their bodies, three big blocks,” Nedeljkovic said. “I don’t know who it was (Erne), he went down and he was hurt, but got right back up and eats (blocks) another one. It was just awesome to see and the crowd feeds off it and we feed off the crowd and got us some momentum.”
Sam Gagner also scored for the Wings, and Nedeljkovic had 30 saves for the Wings.
Eetu Luostarinen added the Panthers’ first goal, as Florida failed to reach four goals scored in a game for the first time this season.
Bobrovsky earned his sixth consecutive win, making 28 saves and looking more like the premier netminder of several years ago, rather than the inconsistent version last season.
The game played out somewhat like Wednesday’s game in Washington, with the Wings falling behind by two goals, then attempting to grind their way back. It’s been a developing theme here in the early season, with the Wings finding different ways to earn victories.
“Similar to the other night, we started playing better hockey and you have to get big saves at big moments which we got from Ned like we got from (Thomas) Greiss,” Blashill said. “It got us into position to win a hockey games. It’s certainly disappointing we didn’t (win) but it does build confidence when we need to we can come from behind.
“We don’t want to be in those spots lots, but we can do it.”
Gagner cut Florida’s lead to 2-1 early in the second period.
Just after a Red Wings’ power play ended, Troy Stecher gathered a puck near the sideboard and unleashed a shot that Gagner, near the hashmark, got his stick on, redirecting the puck to the side, and past, Bobrovsky at 2:15.
It was Gagner’s second goal this season.
Florida opened the scoring with a two-goal first period.
Luostarinen opened the game’s scoring with his second goal. Markus Nutivaara’s shot from the point was deflected by Luostarinen near the slot, and froze Nedeljkovic at 8:43.
After a Red Wings’ power play was unable to convert, Florida quickly extended its lead.
Just five seconds after the Wings’ power play expired, Barkov found forward Anthony Duclair rushing up the ice. Duclair knocked the puck off the back of Nedeljkovic, and Barkov, driving to the net, poked the puck past Nedeljkovic for Barkov’s third goal.
The Wings were scoreless on four power plays, a second consecutive game without a power play goal, and are 1-for-14 in the last three games.
“It wasn’t good enough,” said Blashill of the power play. “We’re going to go back to the drawing board and simplify some things and try to be more effective.”