The Panthers closed their season series with the Dallas Stars with a split as the Cats managed to reach back above the .500 mark to close out their three-game road trip. Florida would see a dozen players on the scoresheet in a 6-2 win on Saturday night in the American Airlines Center in Dallas, TX.
The matchup didn't start out on the right foot for Florida, as Jamie Benn scored his seventh marker of the season as the puck ricocheted off his skate on a Tyler Seguin shot and through the five hole with less than two minutes elapsed. John Klingberg had an assist on the play, which was Dallas' second shot on the night against Al Montoya, who afterward trailed for the first time this season.The marker came on a power play after Alex Petrovic was whistled for delay of game just three seconds earlier.
Eleven minutes into the frame, Jaromir Jagr led an odd-man rush up the ice, slightly lost the handle on the puck, then flipped a wrister past Kari Lehtonen to knot the score at one with assists from Jonathan Huberdeau and Willie Mitchell. Jagr continues to be amongst the NHL's season scoring leaders with his sixth of the campaign.
Two minutes later, Huberdeau stole the puck at Dallas' blue-line and fed Nick Bjugstad (3) for a 2-1 lead. This happened just after the Stars almost took the lead back when Seguin rang the puck off the post behind Montoya.
Florida doubled the lead with 1:22 elapsed in the second frame when Bjugstad left the puck for Aaron Ekblad on a sweet drop-pass 14-feet in front of Lehtonen. Ekblad calmly beat the soon-to-be-replaced Dallas goalie with a very smooth right-handed wrister. Jagr earned his fourth assist of the season on the goal.
Halfway through the period (and the game), Erik Gudbranson got the better of pugilistic partner Antoine Roussel as both skaters were assessed five-minute majors for fighting. The two were trading punches evenly until Guds made Roussel's knees buckle with a right cross.
With five minutes left in the period, Dave Bolland redirected a Dmitry Kulikov shot past Antti Niemi to make it 4-1, Florida. It was Bolland's first goal of the season, with an additional assist handed out to Jussi Jokinen.
Four minutes into the third, Benn scored his NHL-leading eighth goal of the season on a puck-movement clinic courtesy of Seguin and Alex Goligoski to make the score 4-2.
Just over a minute later, Reilly Smith scored for the third time this season when he collected a Jokinen pass just seven feet in front of Niemi, firing it easily past the netminder's glove side to extend the lead back to three goals.
Quinton Howden capped the scoring outburst with three minutes left in the game with his second of the year on an odd-man rush with Derek MacKenzie and Vincent Trocheck.
Jagr still leads the club in scoring, with 10 points, four points more than Nick Bjugstad, Sasha Barkov, and Vincent Trocheck.
Bjugstad's move to the top line would see him earn two points in relief of Barkov. Barkov took a shot off his wrist on Thursday and there is not a current return timetable.
Huberdeau and Jokinen each collected two assists on the night, while Jagr joined Bjugs with a goal and a helper each.
Dallas outshot Florida in each of the three frames, though not by much, generating 35 shots on goal to 30 for the Panthers. Jagr, Seguin, and the scoreless Jason Spezza each tied for a game-high five.
Each team won in the faceoff circle 32 times. Florida was led by Trocheck (six-for-eight) and MacKenzie (eight-for-13).
The Panthers' team effort showed, of all places, in blocked shots. The team lead the category, 22-to-14, but what grabbed my attention is that 14 different Panthers took at least one shot away from Dallas, and thus out of Montoya's face. Montoya owes at least some of his first star (33-of-35 saves on the night) to the rest of the team for trying to make it easier on him.
Next up for the Panthers, the Colorado Avalanche on Tuesday night. Keep checking back here at Litter Box Cats for pre-game, post-game, off-topic, and unsolicited medical advice in the meantime.