Recap: Panthers pad division lead with tough 4-3 victory over Penguins

Verhaeghe’s third period goal gives Cats fifth straight road win

Remember when the Florida Panthers were a struggling road team? Not anymore...

Carter Verhaeghe’s third period goal was the eventual game-winner and Sergei Bobrovsky made 32 stops as the Cats held on for a 4-3 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins to post their fifth straight win on the road.

After playing a poor opening frame Monday night at KeyBank Center, the Panthers started strong and out-shot the Penguins 13-9 and outscored them two to nothing in the first period.

A fine individual effort by Sam Reinhart got the Cats on the board at the 12:43 mark. After carrying the puck up ice, Reinhart ran into some trouble in front of the Pittsburgh goal. The puck was knocked off his stick, but he was able to smack it out of the air and into the net for his 19th goal of the season.

Aaron Ekblad was able to double the lead 1:55 later when he took a pass from Aleksander Barkov, who won the puck after Verhaeghe dumped it behind the net, gathered, and snapped a long shot through traffic and by Tristan Jarry for his 15th goal. Ekblad hit the 50-point mark for the first time ever and Barkov’s assist was his 30th.

The Penguins mounted an early second period comeback, knotting the score on goals from Bryan Rust and Jake Guentzel, which came just nine seconds apart.

After Bobrovsky blocked the puck into the corner, Rust picked it up and dropped back to Markus Petterson, who crossed over to his defense partner Brian Dumoulin, Dumoulin crossed back into the slot for Rust, who curled his way into the right circle before beating Bobrovsky when his pass intended for Zach-Aston Reese deflected in off of Ekblad’s stick.

Guentzel would even things up at 3:16 with a one-timer from the left circle after Sidney Crosby beat Barkov on an offensive zone draw.

Redemption came quickly as Barkov drew a holding call on John Marino and the Cats took advantage on the ensuing power play. After the Panthers moved the puck around for a bit, Barkov put a  wrister on goal that Jarry foiled with his blocker. Jonathan Huberdeau seized and fed the rebound to Anthony Duclair, who equaled his career-high in goals (23) when he fired home from the middle of slot at 7:02. The primary helper gave Huberdeau his 60th assist of the campaign.

Verhaeghe, who got off the schneid against the Sabres, would score on a 2-on-1 break with Barkov after Maxim Mamim drove through and relieved Guentzel of the puck high in the Florida zone. Mamim was able to quickly dish off to a streaking Verhaeghe, who looked off Jarry before solving him glove-side 11:11 into the third to match is career-high of 18 goals.

With Jarry off for an extra attacker, the artist formerly known as “The Kid” would halve the deficit with 2:09 remaining when Jeff Carter’s crisp, long crossing pass found him open down low for the put-away. Rust picked up his second point of the night with the secondary helper.

The Cats would clamp down, with Bobrovsky making one final save, to win their fourth straight game and open up a three-point lead on Tampa Bay Lightning, who were kind enough to drop a 7-4 decision to the Winnipeg Jets.

A most impressive start to the week with the Panthers picking up all four points on the road before they return to Sunrise for their last home game in a while when they face the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday.

Emperors & Chinstraps

  • Aaron Ekblad (15G/35A) became he fourth Panthers defenseman to hit 50 points in a season joining Keith Yandle, who did it twice, Robert Svehla and Brian Campbell. Ekblad is one goal away from matching his career-high and one helper from equaling his career-high in assists.
  • Anthony Duclair’s second period marker extended his goal streak to three games. In addition to matching his career-high in goals, The Duke equaled his career-high of 44 points, set all the way back in his rookie season (2015-16) with the Arizona Coyotes.
  • Jonathan Huberdeau became the first NHLer to hit 60 assists this season. He is three helpers away from breaking his own franchise record, set in 2018-19. He is now one point back of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl in the Art Ross Trophy race.
  • Pittsburgh forwards Bryan Rust and Brock McGinn each played in his 400th NHL game. Rust had a goal and an assist in 20:43 TOI while McGinn registered a shot on goal in 13:57.
  • Aleksander Barkov posted his third straight multi-point game, He’s done that in six of Florida’s last eight contests, totaling 15 points over that span.
  • Tristan Jarry stopped 25 of 29  shots and lost for just the 12th time in regulation.
  • The Panthers took five points in a highly-competitive season series, while Pittsburgh got three. Read more about it at Pensburgh./

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