Samuel Montembeault made 19 stops and fellow Thunderbirds alumni Josh Brown and Dryden Hunt scored their first NHL goals to spark the Florida Panthers to a 6-1 rout over the hapless Detroit Red Wings.
Brown opened the scoring 6:42 into the first after Troy Brouwer gained the Detroit zone and backed his way below the goal line before hitting the oncoming defenseman in the high slot with a pretty feed. The rookie beat Tim Howard glove side, with the second assist going to Mark Pysyk.
Jamie McGinn added to the lead with a power-play goal 2:40 later. After playing catch with Vincent Trocheck near the blue line, Henrik Borgstrom passed down low to Aaron Ekblad and he drilled a bullet one-timer off Howard and McGinn was able to pot the rebound.
Montembeault made his best, and most important save of the night when he denied Andreas Athanasiou with his right pad just over a minute after McGinn’s tally.
Frank Vatrano put the Cats up by three 8:26 into the second when he tipped Ekblad’s tumbling shot from the point by Howard. A strong Vatrano forecheck started a passing sequence that went from Trocheck to Mike Hoffman and then back out to Ekblad while the winger made his to the front of the net for the re-direction.
The Red Wings took advantage of a goaltender interference call on Hunt to net their only goal. MacKenzie Weegar’s clearing attempt struck Thomas Vanek in the back and stayed in the Florida zone. The former Panther passed over to Franz Nielsen and headed towards the net, Nielsen skated in a few strides and then went back door to Vanek for the easy finish at the 12:24 mark.
Florida would blow the game wide-open with three in the third to cruise to its 30th win of the season,
Jonathan Huberdeau finished off a simply superb goalmouth pass from Evgenii Dadonov for a power-play marker 1:22 into the frame. Aleksander Barkov took a short pass from Keith Yandle to gain the zone and then dished off to Huberdeau, who worked the perfect give-and-go with Dadonov. Dadonov squeezed his pass through a closing gap between Howard and a backsliding Jonathan Ericsson right onto Huberdeau’s tape. A thing of beauty.
Hunt finally broke through at NHL level when he went to the net to finish off an NHL ‘94-style set up from Riley Sheahan, who skated through a trio Red Wings before a making a fine backhand pass to the wide-open rookie a 1:25 later. Weegar drew the second assist on the Hunt’s first-ever big league goal.
Barkov would complete the scoring at 7:44 with a laser-like wrist shot from the right circle after Huberdeau quickly fed him after collecting the rebound of a blocked Weegar shot. The goal gave Barkov, playing in 400th NHL game, three-straight multi-point games and his first 30-goal season.
Well, well, well... After gagging away a potential huge win in Boston on Thursday, the Panthers returned to Sunrise and delivered a Novak Djokovic-type performance this weekend, sweeping the brief two-game homestand against Minnesota and Detroit in straight sets, 6-2; 6-1. That’s Florida’s best 120-minute stretch of hockey this season, according to the scoreboard. As of this morning, the Cats have crept back to within seven points of the second wild card, currently held by Columbus in the ever-shifting Eastern Conference playoff race. The Blue Jackets hold a game in hand on the Panthers, so let’s all root for the New York Islanders tonight, Hey, I know it’s a total long shot, but nothing wrong with staying positive at this point, until the numbers tell us otherwise. The introduction of Montembeault has provided a spark while Barkov and Huberdeau continue to roll. That said, it was nice to see other guys on the team score to build the 3-1 lead and then Florida’s dynamic duo finish things off. The Panthers get a few days off, then it’s off to California to open a four-game roadie that closes in Big D. They will need to keep this high level of play up to still be in the chase when they return home.
Video Recap (courtesy of NHL.com)