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Recap: Vatrano hat trick helps Panthers top Blackhawks 4-3 in Coach Q’s return to Chicago

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Cats win sixth in a row, enter the All-Star break in sole possession of third in the Atlantic Division

Florida Panthers v Chicago Blackhawks Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

In what was an emotional return for Florida Panthers head coach Joel Quenneville, his new team could’ve gotten lost in the camaraderie and good will, as Chicago and its fans and players celebrated Quenneville’s tenure as a Stanley Cup-winning coach with the organization.

Instead, the yeoman Cats delivered their sixth straight win in workmanlike fashion, and ensured Quenneville could smile a bit more than expected.

The Panthers got into some penalty trouble late in the game, making the score closer than it needed to be, but held on to top the Blackhawks 4-3 in regulation behind some stellar goaltending from Sergei Bobrovsky.

The chances were pretty even in the first as the Panthers and Hawks sized each other up. Both Robin Lehner and Bobrovsky saw some scoring chances against, but were up to the task and sent both teams into the second period searching for a goal.

The goals sure came in the second, with the teams combining for five in the period, three courtesy of Frank Vatrano, who recorded his second career hat trick. Evgenii Dadonov opened the scoring for the Panthers, potting a dirty, hard-working goal just 4:43 into the frame, with Aleksander Barkov and Mike Matheson getting the assists.

Less than two minutes later, Vatrano would score the first of his three goals in the period, with Mike Hoffman picking up assists on two of them. The Blackhawks managed to score one to keep the game within three, as rookie Kirby Dach netted a beautiful backhand on the rush against Sergei Bobrovsky.

The Panthers had a comfortable three-goal lead going into the final twenty, but the Cats apparently felt like keeping it interesting as they ended up with four penalties against in the third. Drake Caggiula would score on the first power play for the Hawks just four minutes into the third, cutting the Panthers lead to two and making it a game.

The Panthers would have to kill off a high sticking call on Hoffman late in the third, but the heroics of the Panthers defense played the spoiler as they blocked five straight Chicago shots, helping them to get the clears and kill it off.

It wasn’t over, however, as the Blackhawks would pull Robin Lehner and score to cut the lead to one as Patrick Kane would net his 25th of the year with just over a minute remaining. Florida managed to hold down the fort the rest of the way though, and kept Chicago from scoring the equalizer and banked another huge two points on the road.

Second City Hockey should have some Q memories for you to check out over the All-Star break, which starts now. The Panthers won’t be back until Saturday, February 1 as they take on the Montreal Canadiens on the road. Until then, enjoy the break and those NHL standings!

Observations

  • The Panthers have had pretty solid scoring all season long, leading the NHL in goals per game. One of the reasons for that is the line adjustments Quenneville made a few weeks ago. Perhaps one of the biggest beneficiaries of that is Vatrano, who scored again (thrice!) against the Hawks and has looked like his old self from last season as of late. That line of Vatrano, Hoffman and Dominic Toninato has been consistently on the score sheet and the Cats have to be loving the scoring depth they’re providing.
  • Aaron Ekblad had another solid game, limiting Chicago’s top scorers to just a few shots and one assist to Alex DeBrincat. He also had a brilliant assist on Vatrano’s second goal, hopping out of the penalty box and keeping possession of the puck long enough to set Frank The Tank up as he sped into the Chicago zone. Kudos to Ekblad for a pretty solid 60 minutes.
  • The Blackhawks had a touching yet entertaining montage dedicated to the return of Quenneville to the CHI. The head coach had some amazing years as a member of the organization and deserved every second of it. Let’s hope he can make some more major memories in South Florida.
  • The Hawks also honored Kane before the game, as he recently hit 1,000 points in his NHL career. He’s the youngest American-born player to hit that number. Congratulations to Patrick for his remarkable achievement and we all look forward to watching him continue his amazing career.
  • Bobrovsky let up three goals, but that didn’t really tell the story of the game. He made some absolutely huge saves in the third period and kept the game from turning around in Chicago’s favor. He’s still fighting the puck a bit but he’s looked better as of late. Florida is hoping he’ll hit his stride in the closing months of the season, because the team is definitely trying to gear up for a deep playoff run if they make it in.

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