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Vatrano lifts needy Panthers to 3-2 overtime win over Stars

Cats forge a three-way tie atop the Central Division

NHL: Florida Panthers at Dallas Stars Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Frank Vatrano scored a power-play goal 3:09 into overtime to give the Florida Panthers a much-needed 3-2 victory over the Dallas Stars.

With Jamie Benn off for tripping Anthony Duclair, Vatrano gloved down the rebound of MacKenzie Weegar’s shot, and then played catch with Gustav Forsling before besting Anton Khudobin with a one-timer from the right circle for his team-leading fifth-game winning goal of the season.

The goal snapped the Panthers three-game losing streak and forged a three-way tie atop the Discover Central Division. Florida has played two more games than Carolina, and one more than Tampa Bay. All teams currently have 58 points.

Aleksander Barkov notched his fourth goal of the road trip to open the scoring at the 11:50 mark of the first period. Barkov combined with Jonathan Huberdeau to win possession along the side boards. Huberdeau sent a crossing pass over to Markus Nutivaara, who crossed back to Barkov in the slot and he got the puck to go between the legs of Khudobin for his 18th goal, tops on the club now. The red-hot Barkov has potted 10 goals in his last 12 games.

Radko Gudas broke a 1-1 tie 2:45 into the second period when he took a pass from Keith Yandle and his shot from the right point deflected off the shaft of Rhett Gardner’s stick and up and over a befuddled Khudobin. Duclair, playing in his first game since March 30, picked up the secondary assist on Gudas’ first-ever goal as a Panther.

Chris Driedger delivered yet another strong start, finishing the game with 24 saves to post win number 12. He yielded a first period goal to Jason Robertson, on a second chance shot from in close after a short pass by Benn 52 seconds after Barkov’s tally; and another at 8:26 of the third when Joe Pavelski converted a rebound after Robertson’s shot struck Nutivaara and then the post. Not much he could do on either of them. He did, however, come up huge when he reached back to snare a puck that deflected off the skate of Anton Stralman’s skate, keeping it from crossing all the way over the goal line, preventing the Stars from taking a 3-2 lead.

It wasn’t easy, but the Panthers worked extra time to finally get back in the win column. Nine different players recorded a point and the Cats out-shot the Stars 31-26 and successfully killed off all three power-play opportunities against to improve to 5-2 against Dallas this season. Florida’s second and third goals came right after offensive zone faceoffs wins by Barkov and Alex Wennberg, which was good to see. The Panthers will finish this tough, six-game trek with two games in Tampa. These tilts against the Lightning will likely go a long way in deciding whether the Cats, who are getting reinforcements on Thursday, have a legitimate shot at home-ice advantage in the first round or if they are destined for a third place finish.

Giant & Dwarfs

  • Frank Vatrano scored his third overtime game-winning goal of the season, joining Olli Jokinen (4 in 2005-06, 3 in 2003-04) and Mike Hoffman (3 in 2018-19) as the only Panthers to notch at least three OT-winners in a single season in club history.
  • Radko Gudas ended a run of four consecutive Florida goals scored by Aleksander Barkov, who fell one short of the team record set by Pavel Bure in 2000-01
  • Jonathan Huberdeau posted his team-leading 29th assist of the season. It was his first point in six games.
  • Dallas assists not mentioned above went to John Klingberg, Jason Robertson and Jamie Benn, his second of the game. Anton Khudobin stopped 28 shots for the Stars.
  • MacKenzie Weegar led the Cats with 25:17 TOI and blocked five shots, tied for the most blocked shots by a Panther in a game this season.
  • Sami Vatanen had two shots on goal, two hits and two blocked shots in 14:40 in his Stars debut after being claimed off waivers from the New Jersey Devils on Monday.
  • For the dimmer side of Florida’s fifth win over Dallas, orbit Defending Big D.

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