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Wennberg hat trick powers Panthers to 5-1 victory over Lightning

Cats one point away from clinching second place

Tampa Bay Lightning v Florida Panthers Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

Alex Wennberg racked up three goals in the Florida Panthers convincing 5-1 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning in a penalty-filled affair at BB&T Center.

Wennberg opened the scoring 11:44 into the first period after playing give and go with Gustav Forsling. He used a dropping Luke Schenn as a screen and beat Andrei Vasilevskiy with a hard, perfectly placed, no-look wrister from the right circle. MacKenzie Weegar collected his 30th assist of the season on Wennberg’s career-high 14th goal, the first time he’s ever reached that plateau.

The Panthers upped the lead to two when they converted on an early second period power play. Aleksander Barkov gathered up a blocked Keith Yandle drop pass in his own end and quickly churned his way into the Lightning zone. He dropped off to Jonathan Huberdeau, who passed right back to Barkov, who continued to make his way towards the net. As he neared the goal line, Barkov dished off to Sam Bennett in the lower left circle and he settled the puck and fired a shot past Vasilevskiy at the 3:07 mark.

Schenn would net the only Lightning goal a 1:45 later to halve the deficit. Barclay Goodrow chased down a loose puck after a turnover and passed it along the boards to Yanni Gourde behind the net. Schenn moved down into the slot to finish off Gourde’s centering pass for his second of the season.

Wennberg picked up his second of the night at 12:54 when he took a pass from Frank Vatrano and tried to center to Anthony Duclair as he rounded the net. The puck glanced off the blade of Vasilevskiy’s stick and bounced into the net after coming down from a great height and striking the ice. Erik Cernak tried to knock the out of the air, but whiffed.

Huberdeau would tack on another 1:59 later, barely shoveling a backhander through Vasilvelskiy after Bennett set him up following a David Savard turnover immediately after a Tampa Bay defensive faceoff win, thanks to a nudge from number eleven.

Wennberg completed his second hat trick of the campaign, and career, at 13:38 of the final frame. After taking a pass from Owen Tippett, who made a nice play while facing the boards, Wennberg sped over the Tampa Bay blue line and released a shot that deflected off David Savard’s leg and tumbled past a screened and befuddled Vasilevsky. Forsling drew the secondary helper for his second point of the night.

Sergei Bobrovksy delivered a strong start, finishing with 28 saves to notch his 19th win, and the Panthers had no problem answering the bell and matching the frustrated Lighting physically as the teams combined for a whopping 154 penalty minutes in a tilt that featured plenty of fighting, roughing and a dirty Ondrej Palat hit from behind on Noel Acciari. If the Bolts were trying to send a message with their antics, it wasn’t well-received by their neighbors to the south.

The Cats came into this two-game set needing three points to take home-ice advantage in the pending playoff series between the two teams. With an impressive win in regualtion, they served notice to the defending champs that things are not going to easy going foward. Florida clinched the season series and can take second place in the Discover Central Division with either another win or by getting to overtime in Monday night’s season finale.

Flash & Dash

  • The Panthers improved to 4-2-1 vesus Tampa Bay this season. All four wins have come in regulation, marking the first time since 2010-11 that the Cats have defeated the Lightning four times in regulation in one season.
  • Alex Wennberg became the seventh Florida player to have multiple hat tricks in a season, joining Noel Acciari, Aleksander Barkov, Pavel Bure, David Booth, Olli Jokinen and Ray Sheppard. Wennberg is up to a career-high 16 goals this season, one more than he scored in his three previous seasons combined with the Columbus Blue Jackets.
  • Jonathan Huberdeau’s goal was his 20th of the season, marking his fourth straight season with at least 20 goals. He joined Barkov as the second Cat to hit 20 this season. Huberdeau has amassed 38 points (13G/25A) over 38 career games against the Lightning.
  • Sam Bennett has registered 15 points (6G/9A) through his first ten games in Florida garb, the most points by a Panther in their first ten games with the club in franchise history. Bennett has produced at least a point in his last six games played.
  • Andrei Vasilevskiy made 30 stops for Tampa Bay, who have been outscored 10-3 in their last two games.
  • Rookie Owen Tippett extended his point streak to three games, as did Gustav Forsling and Sasha Barkov. MacKenzie Weegar extended his point streak to two games.
  • Get a jolt from our friends at Raw Charge. They have the other side of chapter 7 of the Battle of Florida.

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