Carter Verhaeghe scored two goals 26 seconds apart in the first period to give the Cats a lead they would not relinquish the rest of the way.
Verhaeghe opened the scoring at the thirteen-minute mark, firing into an empty cage after Matthew Tkachuk’s touch pass for a wide-open Marc Staal to finish off failed to fully click, with the defenseman stabbing the puck wide. Staal crashed into goaltender Philipp Grubauer leaving the net open for Verhaeghe, who was set up by Sam Bennett after he got to the puck in the left corner.
Kraken head coach Dave Hakstol challenged the play and lost, putting the Cats on the power-play where Verhaeghe quickly bagged another. After crossing the blue line, Verhaeghe dished off to Tkachuk and headed to the net. Tkachuk crossed to Brandon Montour, who knifed it down low to Verhaeghe. Grubauer stopped the first shot, but Verhaeghe was able to corral the rebound, turn and bury it.
Spencer Knight only gave up one goal and it was to former Panther Jared McCann, who got it 1:53 into the second. With Seattle applying a heavy forecheck, Marc Staal tried to pass out of trouble to Montour. As Montour tried to flip the puck away from his net, McCann got a stick on it, sending it to Jordan Eberle in the right circle. From his kness, Eberle managed to put the puck on net. Knight made the save, but McCann was there to pound in the rebound.
Seattle dominated the rest of the period, outshooting the Cats 13-2, but a huge power-play goal from Tkachuk restored Florida’s two-goal advantage. After playing catch with Montour on the right side, Bennett crossed over to Aaron Ekblad and his hard wrister deflected in off of Tkachuk at 5:51.
After surviving rough seas in the second, the Panthers put the game away 7:49 into the third when emergency call-up Aleksi Heponiemi got his first of the season. A nice play by Ryan Lomberg kept the Kraken from exiting the zone. Eric Staal collected the puck and sent a slicing pass into Heponiemi, who redirected it on Grubauer. The rebound came back to Heponiemi and he put the second chance off the post and into Grubauer’s churning pads, where it eventually found its way over the goal line. That’s assists in back-to-back games for Staal The Eldest. Sounds like a sailor’s tall tale, but it’s true.
Bennett collected his third helper of the night with 6:57 remaining, teeing up Gustav Forsling for a big one-timer with Adam Larsson off for slashing. Eetu Luostainen got to the puck along the boards after a faceoff win by Colin White and fed it back to Forsling, who sent it to Bennett, before moving into center of the high slot for the deliver his salvo.
With the season seemingly slipping off the rails after three consecutive losses, the Panthers have posted back-to-back 5-1 wins in the Pacific Northwest. Three power-plays goals (on four chances) and a 35-save effort from Knight, who was making his 50th NHL appearance, was a winning formula. This was a gutty and balanced effort from the club, who came into the game without centers Aleksander Barkov and Anton Lundell and lost Radko Gudas in the first period and Patric Hornqvist in the second to upper-body injuries. The two points gained allowed the Cats to jump the Detroit Red Wings and New York Rangers and claim Wild Card 2. Last stop of the five-road will be Tuesday night in Winnipeg.
Ink & Tentacles
- After dropping 4-1 and 5-3 decisions to Seattle last season, this was Florida’s first-ever win against the NHL’s newest franchise.
- Carter Verhaeghe is the fourth player in Panthers history to score twice in 26 seconds or less, joining Viktor Kozlov (seven seconds, 2/10/04) Colton Sceviour (23 seconds, 3/30/16) and Jonathan Marchessault (26 seconds, 3/23/17).
- After combining for six points in Vancouver, Verhaeghe, Matthew Tkachuk and Sam Bennett combined for eight points and nine shots at Climate Plege Arena.
- The Kraken failed to score at least two goals for the first time since being shut out by the Minnesota Wild on November 11.
- Aaron Ekblad’s assist on Tkachuk’s goal was his 201st, tying him with Keith Yandle for sixth in Panthers history.
- Philipp Grubauer (2-2-1) finished with 23 stops in just his sixth start of the season. Seattle had not lost a game since November 13.
- Aleski Heponiemi’s goal was the second of his NHL career and first since January 30, 2021.
- For more tales from the deep, get some coffee and sail over to Davy Jones Locker Room.