It didn't take long for first line center Aleksander Barkov to shake off the rust. The burgeoning star bagged two goals to lead the Florida Panthers to an important 3-2 win over the sagging Arizona Coyotes, who dropped their fourth in a row. The injury-prone Panthers wrapped a tough six-game homestand with a 3-2-1 record, a big achievement considering the state of the roster.
The Coyotes struck first with grizzled veteran Shane Doan getting the goal at 7:02 of the opening period. Roberto Luongo got a piece of Doan's relatively harmless looking shot, but the puck went off his goal stick and into the back of the net. Jordan Martinook and Connor Murphy picked up the assists on Doan's 23rd.
The Panthers evened the game at 12:04 on Vincent Trocheck's 18th of the season. Trocheck played catch with Brian Campbell and moved into a cavernous space in the slot before beating rookie Louis Domingue with a wrist shot. Derek MacKenzie drew the secondary helper on the play.
Barkov, back after a six-game absence, snapped the one all tie with a power-play goal midway through the second period. The 20-year-old pivot swiped home the rebound of Nick Bjugstad's big one-timer, which was set up by defenseman Dmitry Kulikov. With his seventeenth, Barkov established a new career-high in goals.
After being flat-out robbed by Domingue early in the three period, Barkov registered his second goal at the four-minute mark after converting a goalmouth feed from Jaromir Jagr. Jussi Jokinen absorbed a hard hit from Martin Hanzal to get the puck down low to the ageless one.
With Bjugstad in the box for hooking, Arizona would take advantage of the power-play opportunity with 5:43 left in regulation to pull within one. Oliver Ekman-Larsson notched the goal, ripping a shot by Luongo after the Coyotes were able to reset after a shot from the point didn't get through. Antoine Vermette and Doan collected the assists on Larsson's 18th.
Luongo would deny Vermette with time running out to keep the game from going to overtime, preserving the Cats' 35th win of 2015-16, which put the club back on top of Tampa Bay and Boston by five points. The victory was Florida's 20th of the season at the BB&T Center.
The Panthers will kick off a big five-game road trip in Columbus on Saturday afternoon.
Kibbles & Bits
- Aleksander Barkov's two-goal outburst gave him 18 on the season to go along with 19 assists, in just 44 games. It was the young pivot's 8th multi-point game of the campaign. Barkov led all Panthers with four shots.
- Erik Gudbranson also returned to the lineup and blocked two shots while logging 19:32 TOI.
- The Coyotes aren't going to make the playoffs (again), but they always seem to give the Cats a tough time. Arizona was 6-1-1 against Florida coming into the game, so good on the Panthers for picking up a key two points here.
- After sitting two games while Al Montoya manned the nets, Roberto Luongo won his second straight start. Luongo finished the tilt with 22 stops, as did Desert Dog Louis Domingue.
- Brian Campbell's first period assist was the 400th of his long and productive career. Congrats on the milestone, Soupy.
- war-on-ice has veritable fancy feast of advanced stats for you here.
- NHL.com has the highlights for you to see with your own eyes.
- If you feel like barking at the moon, visit our fine friends over at Five For Howling.