Nathan Bastian, playing in just his seventh NHL game, opened the scoring when he finished off a pretty crossing pass from Nico Hischier 1:27 into the game. Will Butcher drew the secondary assist with another nice pass that allowed Heischer to split Aaron Ekblad and Mike Matheson.
MacKenize Blackwood made 12 stops in the first period, including a 4-save sequence without his goalie stick, to keep the Panthers off the board.
Bastian, a second-rounder in 2016, scored again 7:41 into the second to stake the Devils to a two-goal lead. This time the rookie went to the front of the net to tip in a centering feed from Egor Yakovlev.
Aleksander Barkov would break Pavel Bure’s longstanding franchise record for points with his 95th of the season 4:17 later. Jonathan Huberdeau blocked Butcher’s point shot and collected the puck before quickly dishing off to Barkov, who went the other way on a 2-on-1 break with Evgenii Dadonov. Barkov wisely chose to shoot and beat Blackwood with a low wrister from the edge of the right circle for his 35th goal.
Pavel Zacha netted a gorgeous highlight reel goal at the 14:29 mark to cancel out Barkov’s score. Zacha came out the penalty box to receive a head-man pass from Joey Anderson and completely undressed Ekblad on a one-on-one situation and then went strong to his forehand to slam the puck over the outstretched right leg of Roberto Luongo, who missed a poke-check.
To their credit, the Panthers persevered to put together a late third period rally to send the game to overtime.
Huberdeau hit the 30-goal mark for the first time when he slipped into the slot to convert a sweet backhand dish from behind the net from Dadonov with 3:25 remaining in regulation. In addition to setting a career-high in goals, Huberdeau finished the season with franchise-best 62 helpers. Keith Yandle added to his franchise record for assists by a defenseman with his 53rd.
The Panthers would knot the score exactly two minutes with Luongo off for an extra attacker. After Vincent Trocheck won an offensive zone faceoff, Mike Hoffman played catch with Yandle, who eventually sent a shot towards the net that was deflected wide by Trocheck. Barkov gained possession and threw the puck back out in the slot for Hoffman, who smacked in his team-leading 36th goal. Barkov’s two-point night put the new franchise scoring record at 96 points. What a performance by Barkov (35G/61A) this season, especially after the All-Star break.
Travis Zajac ended the game 56 seconds into the extra session, solving Luongo blocker-side (where else?) with a low shot from the top of the left circle after taking a pass from Damon Severson.
Well, that’s all folks... The Panthers got a nice final performance from its big guns, but an early deficit, a lack of secondary scoring and some poor defending on all three of New Jersey’s goals in regulation conspired to cost the Cats a win. Florida finished up with a league-high 14 Bettman points (tied with the Rangers and Colorado), proving this year’s model had a tough time coming through in the clutch. The Panthers finished the campaign with 86 points, a ten-point drop from last season and 12 off the total posted by Columbus, the East’s second wild card. Changes are assuredly coming to Sunrise, but how deep will they go? Acquiring a new number one goaltender looks like a certainty, but how much roster turnover will actually occur? And, the biggest question on the mind’s of most right now is whether Bob Boughner will be back for a third turn behind the bench next season. The Panthers currently hold the 13th pick in the upcoming Entry Draft. A big win in the April 9th lottery drawing would be a good start to the offseason... real good.
Video Recap (courtesy of NHL.com)