Red Wings’ late season swoon continues as surging Panthers win, 5-2

Detroit News

Detroit – As the regular season skates into its final few weeks, many teams are fine-tuning their games for the playoffs and playing their best hockey.

The Red Wings, it’s becoming increasingly clear, aren’t going to make the playoffs. The Wings also aren’t playing their best hockey.

Florida gave another example Monday for the Wings of a team ratcheting its game, continuing a late-season surge with a 5-2 victory.

Florida scored two goals early in the first period and forced the Wings to play catch-up. The Wings never were able to rally all the way back.

Pius Suter scored his 13th goal and Dylan Larkin scored his 26th for the Wings.

Larkin’s goal cut the Panthers lead to 3-2 at 7 minutes, 53 seconds of the third period. On a delay penalty, Lucas Raymond found Larkin near the goal line and Larkin snapped a bad angle shot past goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky.

But the Panthers restored the two-goal lead when Anthony Duclair stripped Olli Maatta of the puck leading to a two-on-none rush, and Duclair feeding Eric Staal for the goal at 16:08.

Carter Verhaeghe then added his second goal of the game and 36th of the season, on the power play, capping the scoring at 18:37.

While some teams, like the Panthers, are surging in these final weeks, the Wings (30-30-9) are going the other direction.

BOX SCORE: Panthers 5, Red Wings 2

Since the Wings moved into an Eastern Conference playoff spot on Feb. 23 with an impressive victory over the New York Rangers, the Wings have only won two of their last 12 (2-9-1). The playoffs have become a distant dream. Now, it’s remaining competitive and respectable these final 13 games.

“We have to finish things out the right way,” Larkin said after the Wings lost to Colorado on Saturday. “We can’t just go out there and not give it our all. We have fans coming to the rink, good crowds with good energy in the building and we have to show up and build on that and play hard.”

The Wings have talked all season about playing meaningful games deep into the season. Technically they are still in the playoff chase and are playing many teams battling for playoff positioning.

The hope is, the Wings are taking lessons from these games.

“Every game now is good for us,” defenseman Jake Walman said. “It’s a learning experience. All teams are playing playoff hockey now, so it’s a good experience for us. We have to play our game and no giving up.”

Matthew Tkachuk and Gustav Forsling added Panthers goals, while goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky stopped 19 shots.

The Panthers (36-27-7) have won three straight and eight of their last 11 (8-2-1), as they’ve closed to within a point of a wild-card spot.

Tkachuk opened the scoring with his 33rd goal. Sam Bennett intercepted a costly Raymond turnover deep in the zone and fed an open Tkachuk, who deposited the puck past Husso.

Florida pushed it to 2-0 exactly five minutes later with Verhaeghe’s 35th goal.

Verhaeghe snapped a shot in the high slot that goaltender Ville Husso (20 saves) couldn’t find, while fighting off bodies in his crease.

The Wings challenged for goalie interference on the goal, but the goal stood. After the Florida power play expired, the Wings skated right down and scored. Suter knocked in a loose puck in the crease, after David Perron ran out of room attempting to curl the puck past Bobrovsky.

Talking after Monday’s morning skate, Red Wings coach Derek Lalonde wasn’t surprised by Florida’s recent resurgence.

“They’re one of those scary lineups when you look at the pre-scout and matchups,” Lalonde said. “You give them easy offense, they’re going to cash in. You have to check them. They are pushing, and I don’t think they expected to be in this position right now, but they’ve worked to where they are and they can see the math is starting to work out for them in the wild-card spot.

“(It’s a team) with world class talent and high-end difference makers. They’re a real good team.”

Lalonde reminded the Wings Tuesday morning about the importance of playing hard despite what the standings say.

“We have to keep our compete up because some of these teams are getting their game in order and pushing for the playoffs,” Lalonde said. “You look at Nashville (last week) fighting for a playoff spot and Colorado (Saturday) getting their game in order, we out-chanced both of those teams and played two pretty good games.

“But we have to find a way to flip some of these games (into wins).”

ted.kulfan@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @tkulfan

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