Pressure On Panthers, Down 2-1 Going Into Game 4

WASHINGTON (AP) — Aaron Ekblad paused for almost 10 seconds to consider what the Florida Panthers need to do better to even their series against the Washington Capitals.

“I think there’s a lot of things that we could do better,” he said. “I think to sum it up simply is: Find the game that we had in the regular season and mold it into a playoff game that we can play.”

It’s no longer the regular season, where the Panthers were the best team in the NHL. Now the pressure is on the Presidents’ Trophy winners who are trailing 2-1 going into Game 4 Monday.

“Pressure you can handle two ways,” Florida interim coach Andrew Brunette said. “It can beat you down, or you could pick it up a notch and work harder and bring that level of battle and intensity to a higher level.”

Intensity has been lacking and nervousness high for the Panthers against an opponent with much more playoff experience and a history of success this time of year. They need to find a remedy for that Monday night or they’ll be on the brink of elimination and another early postseason exit.

“If we win a game, we’re evened up and we’re on home ice again,” forward Sam Reinhart said. “It’s a seven-game series. We’re three games in, and we know our best hockey is yet to be played and it’s right there for us.”

Asked if he might consider inserting veteran Joe Thornton or other lineup changes, Brunette said the Panthers were “considering everything.” A demotion could also be in order for top-pairing defenseman MacKenzie Weegar, who has struggled in the series.

“Everything’s on the table,” Brunette said after a short, intense practice full of battle drills. “It’s kind of nice to have a day reprieve here, really a day and a half, and go over a few things. We’re going to make some decisions.”

The decisions seem easy on the Capitals’ side after Ilya Samsonov stopped 29 of 30 shots in his first start this series. Its status quo for Washington with right winger Tom Wilson still expected to be out and no reason for major changes.