Devils fall 4-3 to Panthers in first loss of the season
NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — Panthers coach Paul Maurice made the right moves before the game, the Florida Panthers did everything right for the first 41 minutes and then they held on just long enough to get their first win of the season.
Sam Reinhart moved up to the top line and scored two goals and the defending Eastern Conference champions held off a late rally by New Jersey in posting a 4-3 victory over the Devils on Monday night.
“We wanted to win and we did everything we could and obviously they played really well in the third period,” Panthers center Aleksander Barkov said. “We didn’t shut them completely done but we got enough goals to defend the lead.”
Carter Verhaeghe and Niko Mikkola also scored goals and Matthew Tkachuk had two assists for the Panthers, who had opened the season with losses at Minnesota and Winnipeg.
Florida Panthers defenseman Niko Mikkola celebrates with teammates after scoring a goal as New Jersey Devils defenseman Kevin Bahl (88) skates past in the second period of an NHL hockey game, Monday, Oct. 16, 2023, in Newark, N.J. (AP Photo/Adam Hunger)
“We got to be a very close group last year,” Maurice said of the team that lost the Stanley Cup to the Vegas Goldens Knights. “Then you have seven new guys show up. So, we’re kind of putting them all together but we’re starting to have a little bit of fun with that.”
Sergei Bobrovsky carried a shutout into the third period but saw Erik Haula, Michael McLeod and Jesper Bratt tally to get New Jersey within a goal with 2:23 to play. The 35-year-old, who has started all three games this season, finished with 31 saves.
“He made some great saves, for sure at the end of the game, he made some really, really big saves there," Devils forward Tyler Toffoli said. "It would have been nice to tie it up and give us a chance to get two points. But obviously we fell short.”
Vitek Vanecek finished with 26 saves despite spending the final 4:14 on the bench as the Devils played with an extra skater.
Reinhart, who was moved up from the third line to replace Verhaeghe on the top line with Barkov and Evan Rodrigues, scored on deflections in front. The first came 3:54 after the opening faceoff, and the second came on a third-period power play that gave Florida a 4-0 lead. The goals were the 200th and 201st of his career.
“He’s one of the smartest players in the league and he has this stick that suits him well in front of the net,” Barkov said. “He can do whatever he wants with that, and touches pucks and makes plays and just one of the smartest players I’ve seen.”
Devils coach Lindy Ruff was angry after the Devils (1-1-1) started poorly for the third straight game.
“Yeah, to a man we all should be,” Ruff said. "Players, coaches, we all should be angry at ourselves.”
He promised changes unless his team started playing with more desperation from the start.
NOTES: Maurice coached in his 1,769th game Monday night, passing Joel Quenneville for third all-time among NHL coaches. ... Forward Sam Bennett and defensemen Aaron Ekblad and Brandon Montour have yet to play this season because of injuries. ... RW Justin Sourdif, a third-round draft pick in 2020, made his NHL debut for the Panthers. ... The loss denied coach Ruff his 100th win with New Jersey. Bratt and Haula each had a goal and an assist.
Panthers: Return to Sunrise, Florida, to host to Toronto on Thursday in the start of a four-game homestand.
Devils: Head to Long Island to face the New York Islanders on Friday night.