Panthers top NHL after 3-0 blanking of Blue Jackets

Chris Driedger stops 32 shots for second shutout of the season

Chris Driedger stopped all 32 shots and Aleksander Barkov, Frank Vatrano, and Gustav Forsling provided the goals in the Florida Panthers 3-0 shutout win over the fraying Columbus Blue Jackets.

The Panthers swept the weekend back-to-back against Columbus and have now won a season-high sixth consecutive games, and five straight at BB&T Center.

After a scoreless first period, Barkov bagged the eventual game-winner 1:52 into the middle frame when he took a short pass from Patric Hornqvist and pounded a one-timer past Joonas Korpisalo. Good stick by MacKenzie Weegar to keep the puck in the Blue Jackets end and get it to Hornqvist.

It took awhile, but Vatrano finally extended the lead at the eight-minute mark of the third. Vatrano stole the puck from Patrik Laine in the neutral zone and went the other way with Noel Acciari on a 2-on-1 break with Juho Lammikko trailing. The Tank chose wisely, deciding to shoot instead of pass, and solved Korpisalo with a wrister from the edge of the left circle. Ten of Vatrano’s 13 goals this season have come in the third period or overtime.

Forsling sewed up the win with his third of the season with 7:40 left in the game when he followed up on a Florida rush. A patient Barkov spotted the late arrival and Forsling skated into empty space and beat Korpisalo from essentially the same spot as Vatrano, only this time it was glove side instead of blocker. Weegar’s active stick again started the play off, giving him his second assist of the night. Forsling extended his point streak to a career-high four games.

Driedger earned the third shutout of his career and first against a team other than the Nashville Predators. The shutout was his third straight win and the second blanking in his past five starts. Over that span (beginning on March 20), he has posted a 4-1-0 record, .959 save percentage and 1.20 goals against average. Wow!

With its latest victory, the Panthers have the most points (56) in the NHL and are tied with the Tampa Bay Lightning for the most wins (26). The Cats did not let up after beating Columbus on Saturday, out-shooting the Blue Jackets 35-32 and killing off all three of the visitors power plays. After absolutely crushing this homestand and claiming all eight available points, the Cats face an extremely tough stretch, with a six-game road trip that sees them play the Carolina Hurricanes, Dallas Stars and Lightning twice each. How they fare on this arduous task will be a good indication of whether this is a team having a really good regular season or a true Stanley Cup contender.

Cuffs & Buttons

  • Florida’s six-game win streak is their longest since they won six straight from January 9 to January 21, 2020, and is the longest active winning streak in the league.
  • Aleksander Barkov marker was his 116th career even-strength goal, surpassing Olli Jokinen  for second-most even-strength goals scored in franchise history.
  • MacKenzie Weegar put up his fifth multi-point game of the season. He led Florida with four blocked shots and 24:43 TOI. His 22 even-strength points are tied for second-most among NHL defensemen this season.
  • Frank Vatrano extended his point streak to three games (3G/2A). His goal was his team-leading eighth third-period tally, tied for second-most third-period goals among NHL skaters this season.
  • With two straight losses in Sunrise, the Blue Jackets wrapped a six-game roadie with an ugly 1-5 record. Joonas Korpisalo was solid in the Columbus net, finishing with 32 saves.
  • Patric Hornqvist notched an assist for the second consecutive game after returning from injury.
  • For the other side of Florida’s 26th win, visit The Cannon./

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