Aleksander Barkov scored 12 seconds into the game and Mike Hoffman notched the go-ahead goal on breakaway 6:13 into the third period as the Florida Panthers bounced back from a disappointing loss on Friday to grind out a 3-1 win over the Vegas Golden Knights and former head coach Gerard Gallant.
Barkov grabbed a loose puck and cruised into the Vegas zone, after Shea Theodore and Paul Stastny collided at center ice, before zinging a wrist shot by Marc-Andre Fleury’s wanting glove. It was the fourth-fastest goal from the start of a game in Panthers history and the fastest-ever in a home game.
The Golden Knights tied the game 7:55 later when Stastny won a 50-50 puck in the neutral zone from Mark Pysyk and sent Max Pacioretty down the left side. Pacioretty got Mike Matheson to drop to the ice, then skated by him and fired a shot through the legs of James Reimer.
Another not so shining moment from Florida’s much-maligned defensive pairing and a goal that Reimer would like to have back. Bob Boughner unwisely challenged for goaltender interference and lost his timeout, so low marks all around.
Reimer wouldn’t need the goal back though, as he went on to finish the game with 34 saves. Florida’s #2 is now 5-1-2 in his last eight decisions. I’ll keep on saying this, Reimer needs to play more.
Vegas would carry much of the play over the final two periods, out-shooting the Cats by a hefty 27-13 margin, but it was Hoffman who struck the decisive blow in the final frame.
Hoffman knocked the puck away from William Karlsson at center and sped down the ice before sweetly going backhand to forehand to slip the vulcanized rubber between Fleury’s pads.
Frank Vatrano clinched the game with an empty-netter at 18:44, tracking down a too-long Barkov pass to score from a sharp angle. Aaron Ekblad drew the secondary assist on Vatrano’s 17th goal.
New acquisitions Brassard and Riley Sheahan played 15:32 and 15:34, respectively. Brassard skated on the second line and set up Hoffman’s goal while Sheahan took a spot on the third line.
A bit of strange result. The Panthers were at their best in this one during the first period, but had to settle for a 1-1 tie thanks to the Pacioretty goal and a huge Fleury stop on Evgenii Daodnov’s penalty shot, which also hit the cross bar. I don’t know what game certain members of Florida’s broadcast team were watching as they lauded the Cats for a complete 60-minute effort afterwards, saying this was one of their best games of season. Huh? I saw the final two periods a little differently as I thought Vegas dominated the Panthers for the most part, either getting blunted by Reimer or simply failing to put away Grade A scoring chances. Don’t get me wrong, the Cats did give a good effort (and managed to stay out of the sin bin) to hang in there with a physically stronger club and they found a way to win in third, something they’ve failed to do too many times this season, sending the Golden Knights to a fourth-straight loss, a regular season record low for the almost-new franchise. However you slice it, the Panthers have now won four of five and closed to within eight points of the fading Columbus Blue Jackets with a game in hand. This could get interesting...
Video Recap (courtesy of NHL.com)