On Saturday night in Sunrise, the Florida Panthers defeated the Carolina Hurricanes by a 5-2 final score. Technically, the game was meaningless in the standings and as far as playoff seeding, as the Canes have long since been eliminated and the Cats have clinched the Atlantic Division title.
Earlier in the day, the playoff participants were set as the Philadelphia Flyers got in with a win, the Boston Bruins eliminated themselves with a loss, and the Detroit Red Wings got in despite one. The Flyers were the last of the field of 16 to guarantee themselves a spot. All that's left is to watch how the New York Islanders do for the rest of tonight (they're trailing the Buffalo Sabres 3-2 in the third) and tomorrow to see whether the Panthers will face them or the New York Rangers in the first round.
Before the game got underway, defenseman Brian Campbell was honored in a pre-game ceremony commemorating his 1,000th NHL game. In five seasons with the Cats, he has appeared in all 376 regular season games (and seven postseason contests).
The Panthers decided to keep the festivities going into the game. At just the 1:39 mark, Teddy Purcell (14) lit the lamp with a sweet tip-in on a pass from Jiri Hudler (29). Rocco Grimaldi (2) also earned an assist on the play to give the Panthers an early 1-0 lead that they would never give up.
Jussi Jokinen (18) doubled Florida's lead just two minutes later, getting one by backup Carolina netminder Eddie Lack off a pass from big Nick Bjugstad (19). Dmitry Kulikov earned his 16th helper of the season on the play, which set the score at 2-0 Panthers.
Aaron Ekblad got in on the act at the 7:40 mark, scoring his 15th goal of the campaign on a slapshot from 12 feet in front of Lack, with assists by Hudler (30) and Purcell (29) for the eventual game-winner.
The first period would come to a close with the Panthers owning an 11-to-5 edge in shots on goal. Kulikov, Alex Petrovic, and Derek MacKenzie were tied for the team-lead with two hits apiece. Each team won 10 faceoffs through the frame, and each was 0-for-1 on the power play, but the important stat was the bottom line, 3-0 Panthers after 20.
Five minutes into the middle frame, Florida's first line continued to show why they're considered one of the most dangerous in the NHL, going Barkov-to-Jagr-to-Huberdeau for a 4-0 lead. The goal gave Huberdeau 20 for the season, and represents the first time the Panthers have ever had five players with 20 or more goals in one season. He joins Barkov (28), Jagr (27), Vincent Trocheck (25), and Reilly Smith (24). The assists were Jagr's 39th and Barkov's 31st.
Elias Lindholm (11) got one back for the Hurricanes at the 10:47 mark, banging home a Jordan Staal (28) rebound to cut the Panthers lead to 4-1. The marker prevented Florida goaltender Roberto Luongo from contending for his 73rd career shutout. He currently stands at 11th on the all-time list, four short of ninth-place Eddie "The Eagle" Belfour (also a former Panther) and Tony Esposito.
The second period came to a close with the same three goal difference that the first came to an end on. The Canes outshot the Cats, nine-to-six through the period, and won 12 faceoffs to only five for the Panthers.
Florida's final regulation period of the regular season would start out with what appeared to be Derek MacKenzie's seventh marker of the season, on a wrister from eight feet in front of Lack at the three-minute mark. After a Carolina coaches review, however, the goal was called back due to MacKenzie being offsides.
The Canes made use of a power play at the 4:38 mark of the third, scoring Carolina's second goal of the night on a Staal (20) redirect of a Noah Hanifin (18) shot. Lindholm earned his second point of the night with the secondary assist on the play.
Reilly Smith closed the regular season with an empty net goal with six seconds remaining, which made him the sixth Panther with 50+ points and the fourth with 25+ goals. He did it unassisted, and send the Panthers on to the postseason on the right skate.