The Florida Panthers opened the 2021-22 season with wild and woolly (no, not Jason) 5-4 overtime victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins thanks to two goals from Carter Verhaeghe, including the decisive blow 1:37 into the extra session, and two third period goals from defenseman Aaron Ekblad, which erased a two-goal deficit.
After Verhaeghe sniped a screened Casey DeSmith, with the lone assist going to Aleksander Barkov, for the first period’s only goal, Anthony Duclair put the Cats up by two 3:57 into the second when his aggressiveness was rewarded after Mark Friedman put the puck into his own net after DeSmith poked-checked the incoming Duke. The putting the puck into your own net would continue to be a thing as the game wore on.
Florida ran into some serious penalty trouble later in the frame, getting called for five straight infractions resulting in power-play goals by Danton Heinen and Jeff Carter, a pass that Ekblad deflected over Sergei Bobrovsky, that knotted the score after forty minutes.
The Penguins took it to the reeling Panthers early in the third and jumped ahead at the 8:01 mark when a determined Jake Guentzel, who was initially stopped by Bobrovsky, smartly banked a shot off MacKenzie Weegar’s shin pad from below the goal line with Bob caught out of position.
Pittsburgh scored again thirty seconds later when they crashed the net after Freidman fed Jason Zucker and his shot caught iron with Evan Rodrigues forcing the rebound in after Bobrovsky make a great save on his first attempt.
The second half of the period belonged to Ekblad, who was playing in his first regular season game since fracturing his leg on March 28,
With a pileup of players in the Penguins crease he calmly fired home after the puck was knocked free of the massive scrum and back out into the slot. He tied the game 1:38 later by casually flipping a backhand shot over DeSmith’s shoulder after a collecting Owen Tippett’s mishandle of a hard Jonathan Huberdeau pass with 4:53 left in regulation.
A huge Bobrovsky denial of Rodrigues’ breakaway set the stage for the overtime winner with Weegar quickly head-manning to Barkov, who gained the zone and whipped the puck cross-ice to a wide-open Verhaeghe. Verhaeghe got a little help from Guentzel’s blade in wiring the puck past DeSmith to give the Cats the full two points.
Here is the exciting sequence:
While the Panthers will need to play a much cleaner game and stay out of the penalty box on Saturday when the face the New York Islanders, the club showed they can still come back on anyone and get the win even without playing their best hockey. It wasn’t always pretty, but what a exciting way to kick off the season at FLA Live Arena.
Snares & Chinstraps
- What a return to action for Aaron Ekblad, who earned First Star honors for his stellar performance. Just a monster night statistically, as the 25-year-old served up some early Norris notice with his brace, team-high six shots, three hits, three blocks and +2 rating.
- Despite giving up four goals, the Panthers would not have won this one without the heroics of Sergei Bobrovsky, who finished with 43 saves on a penalty-inflated 47 shots.
- In addition to giving the Penguins nine chances with the man-advantage, one of the biggest disappointments of the evening was how bad the Cats power play looked. They went 0 for 6 and generated just four shots. That needs to improve. There is just way too much talent out there for that to happen.
- Patric Hornqvist registered two shots on goal and two hits in 9:48 of ice time in his first game against his old team since being acquired from Pittsburgh on September 24, 2020.
- Jeff Carter’s second period goal was the 400th of his career. Carter is now one of just seven active players to have hit that mark.
- 2020 first-rounder Anton Lundell made his NHL debut and did not look at all out of place. He logged 15:12 (5:26 shorthanded) of ice time, blocked two shots and posted a +1 rating. Lundell did struggle in the faceoff department, losing 7 of the 10 draws he took.
- On the flip side of that, Captain Barkov went a dominant 23 of 32 (71.9%) in the dot. Barkov assisted on both of Verhaeghe’s goal, had two shots, one hit, two blocks and went +2 on the night. You know, the little bit of everything from Number 16.
- For the other side of the Panthers season-opener, waddle your way to PensBurgh.