The Florida Panthers embraced the spoiler role last night by doubling up the Arizona Coyotes 4-2 to knock the Desert Dogs out of a wild card spot (due to a tiebreaker - they are tied in points with Colorado) and in turn, kept their (very) faint playoff hopes mathematically alive.
Things didn’t look so good to start as the Cats surrendered their 13th shorthanded goal (second worst in the league behind Pittsburgh) of the season 7:46 into the first period.
Keith Yandle jammed Jonathan Huberdeau with pass high in the Coyotes zone and former Panther Michael Grabner was able to steal the puck away and easily beat Roberto Luongo blocker-side to finish off the breakaway. Michael grabbed the NHL lead in shorthanded goals with six.
Huberdeau would help make up for the shorty late in the frame. After Evgenii Dadonov came up with a takeaway in his own end, he carried up ice and gained the zone before dishing off to Huberdeau. Huberdeau fired a beautiful cross-ice pass to Aleksander Barkov and he delayed to give himself a better shooting angle before solving Darcy Kuemper with a perfectly-placed wrister as he cut from the right circle into the slot.
The Panthers would forge ahead midway through the second with Huberdeau again providing the primary assist via the cross-ice pass. With the Cats on a third man-advantage, this time they cashed in when Yandle went to Huberdeau and he went back against the grain to a wide-open Hoffman, who slammed the puck home from the right circle. Hoffman, who was denied earlier in the second by Kuemper, regained the team goal-scoring lead with 34 after Barkov tied him in the first period. That’s 17 power-play markers and 34 power-play points for Hoffman.
Huberdeau would draw his third assist of the night when he set up MacKenzie Weegar’s strike 5:09 into the third period. Dadonov collected a turnover along the boards and quickly passed to Huberdeau and he spotted Weegar, who impressively buried a shot from the high slot for the eventual game-winner.
Later, Weegar would score again for almost the same spot, but it would be wiped out for goalie interference on Barkov.
Arizona would pull within a goal at 17:34 with Kuemper off for an extra attacker when Brad Richardson held the puck in at the line and then snapped a long shot in through traffic for his 17th of the season. Good play all around by Richardson, who dropped back to the point to back-up Oliver-Ekman Larsson and then took his time and got the puck on goal and by a screened Luongo.
Barkov would complete the scoring 1:36 later after Frank Vatrano made a fine defensive play in front of his own goal and sent the puck up to his captain at center ice and he slid a backhander into the empty cage after lugging it into the Arizona end of the ice, matching Hoffman at 34 goals.
Not the best of performances from the Panthers last night, but good enough to get the win. It was nice to see them take a lead, especially after surrendering yet another shorthanded goal, add to it, and then eventually hold on it. Roberto Luongo returned after Sam Montembeault held the net for six straight games and stopped 32 of 34 shots to pick up his 15th win of the campaign. A solid start from Luongo, who can still be effective when properly rested. Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau continued their torrid scoring pace. Barkov is up to 87 points and needs to average a mere point a game the rest of the way to break Pavel Bure’s franchise record of 94. If Barkov continues to score at his recent pace he just might become the first 100-point Panther. Huberdeau added to his club mark for most assists (now at 59) and breached he 80-point mark for the first time in his career. This is the first time the Cats have ever had two players above 80 points in the same season. Dynamic duo, indeed. Worrisome right now is the lack of production beyond the first line.
Video Recap (courtesy of NHL.com)