Panthers open season with 5-2 win over Blackhawks

Cats score three in the third to pull away from winless Chicago

The Florida Panthers shook off the rust to open the 2020-21 season with a 5-2 win over the visiting Chicago Blackhawks, who dropped to 0-3.

Jonathan Huberdeau scored the game’s final goal and added two assists and newcomers Eetu Luostarinen and Patric Hornqvist each tallied a goal and a helper for the undefeated Cats.

After a scoreless first period that saw a Patrick Kane goal called back for offsides and the Cats double up the Blackhawks 12-6 in shots, Aaron Ekblad opened the scoring 12 ticks into the second when he held the puck in along the boards and his shot deflected off a glove and then the stick of Duncan Keith before finding twine.

Keith Yandle, a late addition to the lineup, tracked down an errant Huberdeau pass and was able to beat an out-of-position Collin Delia from the left circle 4:21 later. Luostarinen picked up his first point as a Panther with the secondary assist.

Later in the period, a holding call on Yandle (fit he giveth and then he taketh away) gave Chicago its second power play of the game, and Alex DeBrincat’s one-timer halved the deficit at the 12:24 mark. Assists on the goal went to Keith and Kane.

Connor Murphy would tie the game 2:53 into the final frame, beating Chris Driedger from long range after he took a pass from Keith after an offensive zone faceoff win by rookie Pius Suter. The assist was Suter’s first point in the NHL. Good on the Swiss import, who made a real pretty pass on the wiped-out Kane goal. Driedger was fooled by the shot which changed trajectory after it quickly ticked off Carter Verhaeghe’s stick.

The Panthers shrugged off losing its two-goal lead and struck back 22 seconds later when Verhaeghe came down the left side and found Luostarinen open in the middle for his first NHL goal. Luostarinen, who had 15 points in 17 Liiga games prior to the start of the NHL season, beat Dellia’s glove with a quick snap shot. Anton Stralman picked up the secondary assist on the goal. Nice pass by Verhaeghe, nice shot by Luostarinen. These are two players I am really looking forward to watching as we go on. Great to see them combine on what turned out to be the game-winning goal.

Florida rebuilt a two-goal advantage 2:42 after Luostarinen’s goal when Huberdeau worked a give and go with Hornqvist and the former Penguin’s return pass was deflected into the Chicago net by defenseman Calvin de Haan. Free agent acquisition Radko Gudas drew the second assist for his first Panther point.

Huberdeau put the game away with a power-play tally with 3:05 left on the clock. Aleksander Barkov was denied by Dellia after the Blackhawks turned it over. Hornqvist was able to tap the rebound back to Barkov, who found an open and waiting Huberdeau with a backhand saucer pass and he chipped it home for his first of the season.

All in all, a pretty good night for the Panthers, whose drastically revamped lineup won 32 of 59 faceoffs, blocked 13 shots, stayed out of the sin bin (two minors) and limited the Blackhawks to a total of 27 shots on goal, 25 of which were stopped Driedger, who now sports an 8-2-1 NHL record.

The two teams will meet again on Tuesday night before the Cats embark on a six-game road tip.

Bows & Arrows

  • Radko Gudas, Gustav Forsling, Alex Wennberg, Anthony Duclair, Carter Verhaeghe, Ryan Lomberg and Eetu Luostarinen each made his Panthers debut last night. Luostarinen earned First Star honors and some praise from Coach Q for his two-point performance.
  • Gudas had a game-high three hits, a helper on Hornqvist’s goal, four shots on goal, and finished with a +2 rating in 15:10 TOI. That’s a pretty nice debut, as well.
  • After a bit of training camp controversy, Keith Yandle did play in his 867th consecutive game, the fourth-longest streak in NHL history, and scored his 100th career goal.
  • Alex DeBrincat got his second of the campaign and put a game-high five shots on Chris Driedger.
  • Collin Delia, making his second start, turned away 24 of 29 shots faced. The Blackhawks have allowed five goals in all three of its games this season.
  • Second City Hockey has the other side of the Panthers first win of the new season./

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