Aleksander Barkov scored three goals, including a potential Goal of the Year candidate to snap a three-all tie, and added an assist to lead the Florida Panthers to a 6-3 win over the Montreal Canadiens.
Barkov scored the eventual game-winning goal with 2:15 remaining in the second period when he fended off defenseman Victor Mete and put the puck between his own legs, then chipped a shot up and over Carey Price, who had come in to replace starter Antti Niemi.
After potting his electrifying goal, Barkov potted a big insurance tally 9:13 into the third when his pass attempt on a two-on-one break with Jonathan Huberdeau was broken up by Jeff Petry, but came right back to him and he stuck it by an out-of-position Price.
Florida’s captain opened the scoring 3:59 into the first period with the Cats on a power play. After playing catch at the point with Mike Hoffman, Keith Yandle sent a wrister on goal and Barkov was able to push the rebound under Niemi.
Denis Malgin doubled the Panthers lead 7:29 later when he took a short pass from Derick Brassard, skated over the blue line and solved Niemi’s glove with a knuckling wrist shot. Henrik Borgstrom picked up the secondary assist on Malgin’s seventh.
The Canadiens halved the deficit 1:36 after Malgin’s goal when Tomas Tatar picked Hoffman’s pocket and sent Max Domi in alone on James Reimer, making a second straight start, and he easily scored on the blocker side.
Frank Vatrano joined Barkov in the Sunday night 20-goal club 53 seconds later with a quick shot from the top of the left circle after Barkov and Huberdeau worked the puck free down low. In addition to hitting 20 for the first time, Vatrano’s marker, which deflected in off Shea Weber’s blade, sent Niemi to the bench, with six saves on nine shots, for the rest of the night. Barkov picked up his 35th assist of the season while Huberdeau collected his team-leading 40th.
The first period scoring wasn’t done yet as the Habs pulled back within one at the 16:46 mark when Brendan Gallagher stripped Mike Matheson at his own blue line and skated the length of the ice before ripping a shot off Reimer’s shoulder to bulge the twine.
Montreal would tie the game 5:18 into the second after Domi worked a give-and-go with Mike Reilly. After taking a lazy drop pass from Domi, Reilly knifed the puck into the slot and Domi, who made a sweet one-handed play at center-ice to gain the zone, deflected it home after getting away from Yandle for his second of the night. Tomas Tatar drew the secondary assist for his second point of the game.
After Barkov lit the lamp twice to put the Cats in command, Riley Sheahan got his first as a Panther to complete the scoring with 2:25 left in regulation. Evgenii Dadonov and Hoffman picked up the assists on the clinching empty-netter.
What a game from Aleksander Barkov! Florida’s number one pivot was simply dominant in this one, collecting his second-career hat trick and matching his career-high in points with four. Barkov also had a game-high seven shots and won 12 faceoffs. This is the kind of offensive performance we need to see a little more often from Barkov, Especially nice was seeing him come up with both the game-winning and insurance markers. He looked hungry for goals last night and he got them. Let’s see more of that hungry. James Reimer was pretty solid, stopping 28 shots including a big one on Charles Hudon after the Canadiens forged a 3-3 tie. After losing two in a row, the Panthers have posted back-to-back wins and are now 8-4 in their last 12 games. They are still 11 points out of a playoff spot, so any postseason talk or expectations seem foolhardy at this point. That said, the team seems to have turned the corner, at least somewhat, and should be able to finish up strong.
Video Recap (courtesy of NHL.com)