Mike Hoffman scored the go-ahead late in the second period and set up Frank Vatrano’s clincher in the final frame to help lead the Florida Panthers to an impressive 4-2 win over the San Jose Sharks, the top team in the Western Conference.
Hoffman, who was briefly a member of the Sharks this summer before being dealt to Florida, took a pass from Keith Yandle and blasted home a shot from just above the left circle with 1:11 left in the second to convert a too many men on the ice penalty. Aleksander Barkov drew the secondary assist with a nifty little back pass off the boards to Yandle to extend his points streak to four games and match his career-high of 78 points.
In the third period, Hoffman picked off an errant pass in the neutral zone, worked a give-and-go with Vincent Trocheck and then made a short dish in front to Vatrano, who banged in his 22nd goal at the 8:17 mark.
Sam Montembeault made 26 saves to win his third straight start. The Cats are now 3-0-1 with the rangy rookie in the nets.
After Florida failed to capitalize on an early power-play chance by missing a bunch of good looks, the Sharks opened the scoring 7:22 into the first when Melker Karlsson worked his way by Yandle, fell down, and then got back up to beat Montembeault with a well-placed shot just inside the far post. The goal gave Karlsson 100 NHL points.
The Cats responded 4:23 later thanks to some hard work from Jayce Hawryluk. After his shot attempt was blocked, Hawryluk ended up with the puck again in traffic and managed to feed Aaron Ekblad at the point. Ekblad put the puck on net via a deflection and former Shark Jamie McGinn was able to the swat the rebound underneath Martin Jones.
San Jose regained the lead at 14:36 when Kevin Labanc pounded a one-timer by Montembeault’s glove after a cross-ice set up from Justin Braun. Labanc started the play off in the opposite corner, sending the back around the boards to Kevin Dillon before heading to the left circle to receive the pass.
Dryden Hunt came up with a big goal a 1:25 into the second to tie the tilt at twos. Riley Sheahan won a neutral zone draw and Troy Brouwer and Hunt moved into the Sharks’ end 2-on-2. Brouwer slid a pass across to Hunt and he snapped a wrister through Jones for his second NHL marker. That’s back-to-back games with a goal for Hunt.
The victory, which ended San Jose’s six-game winning streak, pulled the Panthers back within seven points of the idle Columbus Blue Jackets with 12 games left on the slate for each team. Florida, who got help last night from the New York Islanders and Washington Capitals, who beat Montreal and Philadelphia, respectively, need Carolina to take out the Blue Jackets tonight at Nationwide Arena in Columbus. The Panthers need to keep winning and Columbus needs to collapse, but hey, as of this morning, that could still happen.
Video Recap (courtesy of NHL.com)