Panthers stave off elimination with 6-1 rout of Hurricanes

Cats complete sweep of Carolina to stay on playoff life support.

The Florida Panthers routed the Carolina Hurricanes by a 6-1 count at the BB&T Center to stay on life support as the playoff chase draws to a close.

The Cats got no help from Detroit or Tampa Bay as the Bruins slipped by the Red Wings with a late goal and the Senators beat the Lightning in overtime. Florida remains six points behind Boston and now Detroit (and three behind Ottawa), with just four games left on the regular season slate.

The Hurricanes got off to fast start and held a 11-1 advantage in shots on goal at one point of the first period. The Panthers slowly overcame their Boston hangover and started to test goaltender Anton Khudobin in the latter part of the frame.

Florida broke through with fifty seconds left before the buzzer when Willie Mitchell fired home his third goal of the season after Vincent Trocheck beat Eric Staal in the face-off dot. Trocheck won the puck to Jimmy Hayes who tapped it back to Mitchell for the big blast.

The Cats padded the lead at 5:01 of the second period. Brandon Pirri scored on a spinning shot after Jaromir Jagr got the puck through the 'Canes defense. Rookie Aaron Ekblad drew the second assist on Pirri's twenty-second of the campaign. The former Blackhawk has five goals in the last six games.

Jagr would bag a goal of his own, and tie Ron Francis as the NHL's fourth-highest scorer in history, when he beat Khudobin eight minutes later. Aleksander Barkov found Jagr open in the slot after he and linemate Jonathan Huberdeau took control of a rebound behind the Carolina cage. The assist was Huberdeau's team-leading fiftieth point of the season.

The Panthers would get one more with 3:33 left in the stanza. After taking a pass from Erik Gudbranson, Huberdeau sent Barkov speeding into the Carolina zone. Khudobin stopped Barkov's initial shot, but the sophomore pivot calmly swept the rebound into the beckoning net for his fifteenth goal.

Vincent Trocheck beat Khudobin twice in a thirty-eight second span early in the third period to give the Cats a 6-0 lead. The first of the pair ended a long drought for the young center.

Trocheck's opening salvo came after he collected a loose puck in the neutral zone and broke into the Hurricanes end. He then let a long shot go that the Carolina keeper got a piece of, but couldn't keep out. Tomas Kopecky and Shawn Thornton picked up the helpers on Trocheck's sixth goal of 2014-15.

Hayes and Jussi Jokinen set up goal number two for Vincent on the ensuing shift. After Hayes took a shot that Khudobin denied, an opportunistic Trocheck bodied the puck to the ice and fired it past the beleaguered netminder.

It looked like the Panthers were going to shut the Hurricanes out for the third time this season, until Chris Terry beat Roberto Luongo, who finished with 31 saves, with 1:19 remaining in the game. Terry's power-play marker came with Derek MacKenzie in the sin bin for interference.

In a weird sort of way, I thought the Cats made a big statement by winning the game in such easy fashion. After losing a heart-breaker to Boston and getting off to a poor start, it would have been easy from them to stay down in the dumps and drop this one. To their credit, once they got going, they simply blew the doors off Carolina, winning by season-high margin of five. Florida will face the Lightning Saturday night and must win, along with getting some help from the Toronto Maple Leafs, to keep the postseason dream alive.

Odds & Ends

  • The win was the 400th of Roberto Luongo's career. He is only the eleventh netminder in NHL history to hit that mark. Congratulations Louie!
  • Jaromir Jagr's two points gave him an astounding 1,798. Once his next goal or assist steers him clear of Ron Francis, he will take aim at number three man on the list, Gordie Howe, who posted 1,850.
  • In addition to scoring his club's only goal, Chris Terry led the Hurricanes with five shots on net.
  • Brian Campbell has now played in 300 straight games, 290 of them since joining the Panthers.
  • Jonathan Huberdeau's two helpers gave him 51 points with four games to go. Huberdeau, who rang one of the post in the opening period, paced the Cats with five shots and provided a spark all night long.
  • Vincent Trocheck notched the first multi-goal game of his young career and finished with a +4 rating. Trocheck hadn't lit the lamp since Florida's 3-2 shootout loss to Chicago on February 24th.
  • Just a rough night for Hurricanes netminder Anton Khudobin, who turned aside 29 of the 35 shots he faced.
  • Twelve of the Panthers' eighteen skaters picked up points in the rout, with five registering more than one. Trocheck led with three while Huberdeau, Jagr, Barkov and Hayes each collected two.
  • Fly into the eye of Canes Country for the other side of Florida's clean sweep of Carolina.