On a night celebrating goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, another former member of the visiting team shared the spotlight, with Alex Wennberg notching his first NHL hat trick in the replenished Florida Panthers convincing 5-2 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Not to be outshined, Bobrovksy delivered a strong start stopping 44 of 46 shots, the most saves by a Panthers goaltender in a game this season. to collect his 15th win of the campaign.
After a scoreless first period, a returned Aleksander Barkov made his presence felt, possessing the puck down low before sending a perfect circle to circle pass to MacKenzie Wexegar, who picked the top shelf 3:57 into the second. Carter Verhaeghe registered the secondary assist to extend his point streak to three games.
The Panthers added on 52 second later when Frank Vatrano forced a turnover that ended up on the stick of Patric Hornqvist. The grizzled vet, back after missing four games, sent Vatrano and Wennberg away on a 2-on-1 that culminated in the former setting up the latter with a fine saucer pass that was blasted into the net with such velocity it was initially waved off. Upon further review... count it!
It only took Wennberg 3:52 to solve old teammate Elvis Merzlikins a second time. Weegar sent a crisp entry pass to Florida’s second line pivot and he quickly moved into the Columbus zone before snapping a wrist shot home from above the left circle. Gustav Forsling got the secondary helper, giving him assists in three consecutive games.
With the Joonas Korpisalo now between the pipes, Oliver Bjorkstand finally got the Blue Jackets on the board 2:46 into the third, cashing in on the juicy rebound of a sharp-angled shot by Michael Del Zotto.
Vatrano put the Cats back up by three midway through the frame when he followed up on Owen Tippett’s nifty steal and breakaway that was denied by Korpisalo. The relief keeper couldn’t do anything about the onrushing Tank coming together with the rebound in the slot.
Frank Vatrano (12 G) is an absolute force in these 3rd periods!— Bally Sports Florida: Panthers (@BallyPanthers) April 4, 2021
1 #CBJvsFLA 4 #FlaPanthers #OneTerritory #NHL
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Zach Werenski pulled one back for Columbus with a 1:45 left on the clock when he finished off a soft pass from Riley Nash that went by Eric Robinson. Nash had two open Blue Jackets to choose from as the Panthers got caught on a sloppy line change. Sorry, Sergei...
Not to worry. It was too little, too late for Columbus and Wennberg drove that point home by intercepting a centering pass and scoring an empty-netter from his own end to finish off the trick, giving him four goals in the last two games.
Florida broke the game open with three goals in a torrid 4:50 span during the second period and tacked on two more in the third period to improve to 25-9-4 overall and 4-0-1 this season against the usually difficult Blue Jackets. Despite the loss of some key players, the Panthers are rolling, posting a season-high fifth consecutive victory and fourth consecutive win at the BB&T Center. Their latest victory marked the second-fewest games required to reach the 25-win mark in franchise history. Remember ten days ago, after the Cats were swept by the Blackhawks and some fans started to panic? That fuss seems pretty silly now... The two teams will meet again today at 5 p.m. with Chris Driedger and Korpisalo the projected starters.
Cuff & Buttons
- In a delayed pregame ceremony, the Panthers celebrated Sergei Bobrovsky reaching 500 NHL games played. Bobrovsky appeared in his 500th game on February 10, 2020 at Philadelphia, his original NHL team, just prior to the pause to the 2019-20 season. The 75th goaltender in league history to reach the 500-game mark, upon reaching the milestone Bobrovsky became just the third Russian-born goaltender to play 500 NHL games.
- Jonathan Huberdeau played in his 574th NHL game tonight, passing Robert Svehla for the third-most games played in a Panthers uniform in franchise history.
- Alex Wennberg’s first career hat trick was just his third career multi-goal game. He led the Cats with 22:28 of ice time.
- In addition to collecting two points, Frank Vatrano registered a team-high six shots on goal for the second consecutive game.
- Alexandre Texier and Seth Jones collected the secondary assists on the Columbus goals.
- MacKenzie Weegar produced his fourth multi-point game in 2021. His plus-four rating was the highest by any Panther this season.
- More from the back end, North Dakota’s Matt Kiersted made his NHL debut, registering a team-high four blocked shots in 12:47 and Radko Gudas led the Cats with seven hits.
- Elvis Merzlikins stopped 22 of 25 shots over the first forty minutes, while Joonas Korpisalo made 12 saves in the third.
- For more on Florida’s 25th win, go back to Ohio and fire The Cannon.