Revitalized Florida heads into its ten-day break winners of three in a row, against three of the league’s better teams, and are now all of sudden back at NHL .500 with a 20-20-8 record.
Frank Vatrano had a career-night with a goal and three assists and captain Aleksander Barkov also dished out three helpers to snap a four-game pointless streak.
The Cats opened the scoring 17:21 into the first period after a Vatrano interception led to Barkov hitting Aaron Ekblad with a cross-ice pass and the defenseman beating Martin Jones with a hard, rising wrister from the high slot.
San Jose countered 4:21 into the second on Logan Couture’s deft deflection of Brent Bruns fluttering shot from the point that handcuffed Roberto Luongo and leaked through him off the bounce. Barkov gave Burns too much space at the point to make a play and couldn’t make up the distance when Timo Meier sent the puck back to the blue line.
Vatrano drew his second assist 1:46 later by gaining the zone and fending off Evander Kane before handing off to Evgenii Dadonov, who sent a no-look pass over to his right to Mike Matheson for a successful one-timer from the circle. Matheson has two goals in the last three games, doubling his total from two to four.
The Sharks tied the game a second time when Meier poked in his own rebound from in tight after Joe Thornton threw the puck in front from below the goal line. The Panthers challenged for goaltender interference, but the goal (correctly) stood as Luongo never really covered the puck.
After getting doubled up on the scoreboard and out-shot 14-7 in the middle frame, the Cats looked to be on the ropes heading into the third, however, an early double-minor on Kane for hi-sticking Nick Bjugstad would provide the needed opening to turn the tide.
Keith Yandle scored 31 seconds after Kane went to the box, wristing a Huberdeau pass home through traffic from the left point with the second assist going to Barkov to take care of the first half of the 4-minute penalty.
The Panthers pounced nine seconds later when defenseman Radim Simek blew a tire and Vatrano collected the loose puck and fed Vincent Trocheck for another power-play goal.
Vatrano added a goal to his three helpers at the 7:22 mark when he blew by a gassed Burns to take a nifty little lead pass from Dadonov and finished with a beautiful backhand. Vatrano’s sixteenth of the season sent Jones to the bench for backup Aaron Dell.
A frustrated Kane would add to his PIM count late, so Bjugstad finalized the scoring at 19:22 by getting open in the middle to complete a very pretty passing play involving Colton Sceviour and Jayce Hawryluk, who got some power play time with the game already out of reach.
Luongo finished the game with 27 saves to post his tenth win of the season.
Wow, what a three-game run for the Panthers, who looked dead in the water before the return of Trocheck and the addition of Brown. I’m not sure what’s going to happen after the break, as the club still finds itself in a rather large hole, but these last three games make me think the team will be fun to watch, and if nothing else, could play the spoiler role going down the stretch. I know the scorers usually get the text, but today I’ll give the hats to off to the new third pairing on defense. McCoshen saved a goal, in all likelihood, with a nice block in the first period when the game was scoreless and dished out three hits. Brown threw down Brenden Dillion in the third, blocked a shot and registered three hits. Nice job, kids.
Video Recap (courtesy of NHL.com)