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Panthers top the league after 6-3 win over Blackhawks

Two deficits not an issue for comeback Cats

Chicago Blackhawks v Florida Panthers Photo by Eliot J. Schechter/NHLI via Getty Images

The Florida Panthers trailed twice before reeling off five straight goals, two into an empty net, to dispatch the Chicago Blackhawks by a 6-3 count and climb to the top of the NHL heap with 42 points and a game in hand on the New York Islanders, the only other team with that number.

Florida fell behind 10:38 into the first when Patrick Kane and David Kampf doggedly pressured Anthony Duclair into a turnover that Kampf quickly dropped back to Kane, who zipped the puck into the net to end a six-game goalless drought.

The Panthers tied it up with 1:45 left in the frame and Duncan Keith off for tripping. After taking a pass from Alex Wennberg, Gustav Forsling went to Owen Tippett in the left circle and he blasted a one-timer that deflected in off the skates of Connor Murphy and Calvin de Haan for his fourth goal.

Despite controlling much of the first half of the second period, the Cats couldn’t take the lead and fell behind by two when Philip Kurashev got loose in the slot and one-timed a nifty pass from Mattias Janmark at 10:19 and Brandon Hagel knocked in a rebound 2:42 later after Keith’s sharp-angled screamer struck Dominik Kubalik, then Hagel and fell right in from of him in the blue paint to put home. Some shoddy defensive work by the Cats contributed to both goals.

Not to worry, the Panthers power play converted a second time, just a 1:46 after Hagel’s goal to close the gap. Keith Yandle swiped left to Aaron Ekblad, after Jonathan Huberdeau’s pass hit him in skates, and Ekblad moved down into the left circle before drilling a wrister over Kevin Lankinen’s shoulder to hit double digit goals. Great composure and pass by Yandle to make that one happen.

The Cats would even the score at the 16-minute mark. After taking a short pass from Carter Verhaeghe, Aleksander Barkov put a on fine display of puck possession down low before feeding back to Forsling at the left point. Forsling snapped a wrister that found its way through traffic in front to give the 24-year-old defenseman his first goal as a Panther.

Lankinen would absolutely rob Ekblad with his glove to deny the Panthers a third power-play goal and keep them from taking the lead into the dressing room at the second intermission.

The game remained even-steven until the 13:26 mark of the third. Barkov and Noel Acciari broke out 2-on-1 after defensive zone draw. The captain pulled up near the right circle and went back to trailer MacKenzie Weegar. Lankinen stopped Weegar’s shot, but couldn’t clamp down on it. Acciari jostled it loose and Barkov popped it in to finally give the Cats the lead and their first shorthanded tally of the season.

Verhaeghe, from Barkov, and Wennberg, assists to Huberdeau and Hornqvist, tacked on empty-netters to complete the scoring. Two empty-net goals in one game... What madness is this?

Although the stay will probably be brief due to the crowd at the top, for the first time in more than 24 years, the Panthers occupy first place in the NHL standings beyond their second game of the season. The last such instance before Monday was through games played on December 28, 1996, after they skated to a 1-1 tie with the Washington Capitals. It wasn’t always pretty, but special teams and hard work helped the Cats improve to 19-5-4 and 9-3-3 at BB&T Center. They own the fewest regulation losses in the league. Enjoy the rarefied air, folks.

Bows & Arrows

  • The Panthers overcame 1-0 and 3-1 deficits to win their fourth straight game, their longest win streak of the season. The Panthers now have five multi-goal comeback victories, which ranks tied with the Winnipeg Jets for the most among NHL teams this season.
  • Florida did not allow a goal on the penalty kill (8-8) in these two games against Chicago.
  • Aaron Ekblad tallied his seventh power-play goal, and 10th overall goal of the season. He has produced at least 10 goals in a season six times in his seven-season career. Ekblad is the fastest Panthers defenseman (28 games played) to reach 10 goals in a season in franchise history.
  • Aleksander Barkov recorded his second consecutive three-point performance, including Florida’s first shorthanded goal of the season, and won 12 of his 17 faceoffs (71%). Barkov played in his 507th NHL game, surpassing Bill Lindsay for 10th-most games played in franchise history.
  • Patrick Kane’s goal was his 1,064th NHL point, moving him past Joe Mullen for fifth place among United States-born players.
  • Playing in his 200th NHL game, MacKenzie Weegar extended his point streak to five games. Weegar is the 20th defenseman to play at least 200 games with the club.
  • Sergei Bobrovsky stopped 26 shots and earned his sixth consecutive win (his longest win streak with Florida), He has not lost in regulation over his past eight starts (7-0-1).
  • Kevin Lankinen made 30 saves for the Blackhawks and dropped to 10-6-4.
  • Carter Verhaeghe and Owen Tippett extended their point streaks to four games. Verhaeghe leads the Panthers with 11 even-strength goals.
  • For the other side of Florida’s fourth win over Chicago, visit Second City Hockey.

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