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Panthers rally for wild, playoff-clinching 7-4 win over Predators

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Cats will make back-to-back postseason appearances for the second time in franchise history

Florida Panthers v Nashville Predators Photo by John Russell/NHLI via Getty Images

The Florida Panthers booked the seventh trip to the postseason in franchise history with a wild 7-4 comeback win over the Nashville Predators at Bridgestone Arena.

Down 4-3 after forty minutes, the Cats returned for the third period with rookie Spencer Knight between the pipes and Sergei Bobrovsky, who stopped 17 of 21 shots, on the bench thanks to Ryan Ellis’ go-ahead goal with 23 seconds left in the middle frame. Ellis also opened the scoring with a first period rocket.

After Sam Bennett threw the puck in front and Jonathan Huberdeau took a couple whacks at it, Owen Tippett jabbed in the loose change at 4:57 of the third to the tie the score.

Frank “Third Period” Vatrano came up with the game-winner 2:18 later when he took a backhand feed from Alex Wennberg and beat Juuse Saros with rising wrister from the left faceoff dot. Aleksi Heponiemi got his nose dirty in the corner to help Wennberg win the puck, earning his first NHL assist.

Huberdeau scored at 13:48 to give the Panthers some breathing room with Yakov Trenin off for hooking. Aleksander Barkov took a pass from Bennett and skated through an open lane towards the net before beautifully dishing off cross-slot to Huberdeau, who fired past a diving, out-of-position Saros.

He was awarded his second of the night when he was pulled down by a desperate Ellis at the blue line after a stealing the puck and before he could put into the empty net.

Huberbeau finished the game with five points, matching the career-high he set in a 6-5 overtime loss to the Predators on February 4. He had assists on Florida’s first two goals, power-play markers by Barkov and Anthony Duclair. The primary assists on Barkov’s goal went to beleaguered Keith Yandle while Bennett drew the secondary helper on Duclair’s seventh of the season.

Duclair’s goal at 2:56 of the second put the Cats up 2-1, but Luke Kunin and Tanner Jeannot scored off rebounds to give Nashville the lead before Barkov tied things up with a great individual effort at 17:32 ,with the assists going to Tippett and MacKenzie Weegar.

The Panthers went 3 for 5 on the power play; Huberdeau (2G/3A), Barkov (2G/1A) and Bennett (3A) combined for 11 points; they won the faceoff battle 55-45% and finished with 55 shots on goal, tied for the most in an game this season with the Colorado Avalanche. Knight made nine saves in relief of Bobrovsky to earn his second NHL win. Pretty cool for the rookie to pick it up in the game that clinched a playoff berth. Speaking of rookies, Tippett (2 points - 8 shots) and Heponiemi (1 point - 3 shots) made key contributions, and Grigori Denisenko (1 shot - 12:38) and Matt Kierstad (11:39 TOI) also played as the Cats iced a youthful lineup that was able to come through in the end. It was ugly at times, but these kind of games, where your team scores a bunch of goals, especially against a hot goalie like Saros, are fun to watch.

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