Aaron Ekblad notched the game-winning goal with 10 seconds left in overtime and Carter Verhaeghe scored three times in regulation to give the Florida Panthers a thrilling 4-3 win over the Dallas Stars, ending a season-high three-game losing streak in the process.
With the secondary assist on Ekblad’s 11th of the campaign, Verhaeghe factored in on all of Florida goals, giving the 25-year-old his first career four-point game.
Let’s start with the Ekblad winner, which came 34 seconds after he had one called back for offsides. Ekblad officially sealed the deal the second time around, taking a centering pass from Jonathan Huberdeau after Verhaeghe sent the pair off on a 2-on-1 break by solving Anton Khudobin with a crisp backhand. Props to Sergei Bobrovsky, who came up with a colossal save about 20 seconds before Ekblad ended it. Ekblad is up to five overtime game-winning goals.
Now on to the Carter show. Verhaeghe scored at even-strength, on the power play, and shorthanded to collect his second career hat trick.
Verhaeghe started the scoring off 24 seconds into the action when he skated into a puck that was jostled loose from Noel Acciari, who did yeoman’s work to bring it up ice, and whipped a wrister by Khudobin from the left circle. That’s the fastest goal by a Panther to open a game in 2021.
After Denis Gurianov tallied from in close and John Klingberg ripped in a one-timer in a brief 1:56 span to give Dallas the lead, Verhaeghe lit the lamp for the second time with three minutes left in the frame. Khudobin denied Owen Tippett’s hard, low shot, but Acciari was able to pop the rebound into the air and Verhaeghe was able to deftly guide it home for the goal.
Verhaeghe got shorty to give the Cats the lead back with the only goal of the second period at the 17:40 mark. After an exiting Miro Heskaninen gagged up the puck, Verhaeghe took possession and moved into the left circle, backing off Klingberg, and then beat Khudobin’s glove with a rising wrister.
Joel L’Esperance would score his first of the season, from Joel Hanley and Andrej Sekera, to forge a 3-3 tie three minutes into the third. It was L’Esperance’s first goal since October 10, 2019
Despite surrendering three goals, Bobrovsky delivered a quality start, finishing with 31 saves as the Cats were out-shot in the game 34-28, to pick up his 13th win of the season. Bobrovsky is an astounding 15-1-1 versus Dallas during his career. That record makes me want to see him this evening, but Chris Driedger will probably get the call in the rematch.
Hats off (pun intended) to Verhaeghe and the gritty Panthers for coming up with a much-needed win in game four of this five-game road trip. In addition to putting a stop to its skid, the third place Cats, who went 3-for-3 on the penalty kill, got some help on Saturday with fourth place Chicago, who had gained four points on Florida with back-to-back wins Tuesday and Thursday, losing to Nashville, and fifth place (coming into the game) Columbus falling to the lowly Detroit Red Wings. Due to past franchise transgressions, some fans were getting worried an epic collapse might be in the works, but the Panthers are right back to a nine-point cushion over the Blackhawks and have 11 points on the Predators (who jumped the Blue Jackets) and the playoff cut line with game in hand on both. This has certainly been a tough week, but things are still looking pretty rosy.
Giants & Dwarfs
- Carter Verhaeghe is the third player in Panthers history to register a hat trick by scoring an even-strength, power-play, and shorthanded goal. Colton Sceviour (Octocber 30, 2016 at Deteoir) and Nathan Horton (December 14, 2009 at New York Islanders) are the others. Verhaeghe’s shorthanded goal was his first as a Panther, and his PPG was his first power-play point with his new team. His first two goals both came in the first period, tied for most goals in one period by a Cat this season. He now leads the club with 15 goals.
- Three different Panthers have notched hat tricks this season: Verhaeghe, Jonathan Huberdeau (February 4 vs. Nashville), and Noel Acciari (March 6 at Nashville).
- Speaking of Acciari, he produced two assists, his second multi-assist performance in the past three games. Acciari registered three shots on goal and won 17 of his 29 faceoffs.
- Keith Yandle played in his 900th consecutive NHL game. He is just the third player in NHL history to play 900 consecutive regular season games, joining Doug Jarvis and Garry Unger.
- Radko Gudas blocked five shots, the most by any Panther in a game this season.
- Defenseman Joe Hanley collected two assists for his first multi-point game of the campaign. Other Stars with helpers not mentioned above were Jamie Benn, Esa Lindell and Radek Faksa.
- For more on Florida third win over Dallas, visit Defending Big D.