Recap: Defense comes up big as Panthers grind out 5-2 win over Blackhawks

Cats hit 75 points, sweep three-game road trip

While the Florida Panthers forwards couldn’t find a way to beat Marc-Andre Fleury, the club’s defensemen had no such trouble, scoring three times to lead the Cats to a 5-2 win over the Chicago Blackhawks at United Center.

Aaron Ekblad opened the scoring, from Sam Reinhart and Mason Marchment, 16:33 into the first period by bashing in Reinhart’s cross from the left circle. Brandon Montour took a drop pass from Aleksander Barkov and blew a shot by Fleury 7:26 into the second to snap a 1-1 tie, and MacKenzie Weegar scored the eventual game-winning goal off a centering feed from Carter Verhaeghe. Fleury got a piece of the shot, which deflected off Kirby Dach’s stick, but not enough to keep it out of the net. The goal came fifty seconds into the third and put the Panthers up by a deuce. Barkov drew the secondary assist with some hard work to free the puck for Verhaeghe with the teams skating 4-on-4.

Florida, who appeared to go up by three only to have an Anthony Duclair strike waived off, would need that goal as Caleb Jones somehow beat Sergei Bobrovsky with 7:22 to go to pull the Blackhawks back into the game. Alex DeBrincat and Patrick Kane set up Jones’ goal.

Kane scored Chicago’s first goal from below the goal line from Jake McCabe with 32 ticks left in the opening period, another shot that Bobrovsky would like to have back.

Barkov put the game away for good with an empty-netter at 18:12 after he was sprung by crisp passes from Gustav Forsling and Jonathan Huberdeau. Huberdeau also had the secondary assist on Montour’s goal for yet another multiple-point outing.

Anton Lundell completed the scoring 39 seconds later with another empty-net goal with the assists credited to Noel Acciari, his first point of the year, and Ekblad.

Bobrovsky shook off both softies to finish with 22 saves to earn his 26th victory of the season. The veteran got all three wins as the Panthers returned from a two-plus week layoff to sweep Carolina, Minnesota and Chicago on the three-game road trip.

The Cats will return home for a five-game homestand starting with Tuesday’s meeting with the Nashville Predators, which is the last of the four games that was postponed in late December with the Omicron variant raging.

This certainly wasn’t the prettiest of wins, but the Cats rebounded from a rather poor first period to outwork and outplay the Blackhawks the rest of the way. While the forwards weren’t scoring, they did a good job of keeping near-constant pressure on Chicago over the final forty minutes, helping out in their own end, and feeding the defense, who were able to solve Fleury to keep the Panthers ahead.

Bows & Arrows

  • Jonathan Huberdeau’s 70 points are the most by a Panthers player through 50 games in a season. Huberdeau is tied with Leon Draisaitl for second in NHL scoring, one point back of Connor McDavid.
  • The win was the team’s 35th and gave them 75 points, five better than the Tampa Bay Lightning, who hold a game in hand.
  • Patrick Kane’s third period helper was his 720th assist in the NHL, moving him past Denis Savard into second place in Blackhawks history.
  • Noel Acciari collected his first point in his second game since returning to the lineup. Acciari played 12:27 and registered three shots and three hits.
  • Marc-Andre Fleury finished the game with 20 saves on 23 shots, keeping his team in it until the Panthers salted the game away late.
  • Radko Gudas was a stats machine, dishing out a game-high 8 hits and blocking a game-high 5 shots. He also had a shot on goal, 4 PIM, and posted a +1 rating.
  • For the other side of Florida latest win, visit Second City Hockey./

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