Jayce Hawryluk scored his first two NHL goals to help to the Florida Panthers beat the Chicago Blackhawks 6-3 at United Center. The Cats finished its four-game road trip with a 3-1 record and climbed into sixth place in the Atlantic Division.
After Connor Murphy was given tons of space to open scoring at 13:33 of the first period, Hawryluk skated thorough defenseman Chris Dahlstrom, who mishandled MacKenzie Weegar’s long bounce pass off the boards, and beat Cam Ward to the loose puck before firing it home for his big league goal at 16:21
Mike Matheson’s pin point pass sprung Hawryluk for a breakaway and the rookie made no mistake, easily solving Ward with a quick shot from the edge of the right circle 2:35 into the second.
On a night when the first line was quiet (just one assist for Aleksander Barkov), the Cats got plenty of secondary scoring as Jared McCann and Frank Vatrano each had a goal and an assist and Denis Malgin also tallied to give Florida a three-goal lead 59 seconds into the third.
Mike Hoffman was the Panthers only “big gun” to light the lamp. His blistering power-play goal, from Weegar and Vatrano, with 3:11 left in the middle frame snapped a 2-2 tie.
Cam Ward gave up a juicy rebound on a long Weegar shot that McCann deposited into the net 31 seconds later to give the Cats, and goaltender James Reimer, some breathing room.
The other Blackhawk scorers were Alex DeBrincat and Dylan Strome. DeBrincat deposited the puck into a yawning net on a second period power play, after his pass deflected off Strome, then Matheson’s skate, then the far post and came back to him on the other side. Strome would beat Reimer from in close with a tip of a beautiful backhand saucer pass from Patrick Kane to pull Chicago back within two goals midway through the third.
Vatrano clinched the game with an empty-netter from Barkov and Yandle with 1:01 remaining to give Florida’s its fifteenth win of the season.
Well, that was a fun one to watch! After just barely getting by Detroit on Saturday, it was nice to see the Panthers double up a team sitting below them in the standings to sweep the back-to-back and finish the road trip in fine fashion. It’s not often the Cats win without a big night from their “Big 4” of Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau, Evgenii Dadonov, and Hoffman, so hats off to the club’s other forwards who stepped up, especially Hawryluk who scored his goals when the game was still very much in doubt, and led the team to victory. Reimer stopped 26 shots in pretty solid effort overall. James was at his best in the early going when the Panthers were still finding their legs after playing the day before. The Cats go into the Christmas break having won four of its last five, and return on Friday in a key home ice match against the Montreal Canadiens, who they trail in the wild card race by seven points with two games in hand.
Video Recap (courtesy of NHL.com)