Following another losing streak with multiple players injured in the process, the Florida Panthers needed some momentum. And it was their returning captain, Aleksander Barkov, who dominated the points with a hat trick and two assists.
In addition, Florida’s defense did not let up a single goal after the first period, and as a result, the Panthers cruised to a 7-2 win.
Calling all Cats fans!— Jake Gibson (@JakeTheEmcee) December 29, 2022
Follow this thread for some live coverage of tonight's matchup between the Panthers and the visiting Montreal Canadiens!
Bring the energy tonight at the FLA Live Arena!#TimeToHunt pic.twitter.com/b6bstO5uE9
Snowbirds in South Florida
The Panthers entered this game as the losers of three straight games against the Boston Bruins, New Jersey Devils, and New York Islanders. During that stretch, they gave up 16 goals and only managed six goals themselves.
Florida received a much-needed boost, however, it wasn’t announced until prior to the Montreal game that Barkov, Aaron Ekblad, and Radko Gudas were all confirmed to be playing after missing multiple games each due to injury.
Coach Maurice confirms that all three of Aleksander Barkov, Aaron Ekblad, and Radko Gudas have been cleared to play and will return to the lineup tonight against Montreal.— Florida Panthers (@FlaPanthers) December 29, 2022
Sergei Bobrovsky will be in net and Anton Levtchi will make his @nhl debut.
On the other side, Montreal has been on a very similar decline, losing their past three games to the Colorado Avalanche, Dallas Stars, and Tampa Bay Lightning.
While both Florida and Montreal have similar records, the Canadiens find themselves in last place in the Atlantic Division, with the Panthers a couple of spots ahead.
Hats Off to Aleksander Barkov!
The Panthers got off to a hot start thanks to the efforts of Barkov, when a shot by defenseman Gustav Forsling ricocheted off the foot of Barkov and into the net for the first goal of the game two minutes in.
Florida kept up the pressure with nine shots on goal in the next eight minutes. With the addition of a high stick penalty on Montreal, Barkov doubled down with a tip-in off a pass by center Colin White to raise the lead to 2-0.
A few minutes later, Gudas would find himself in some penalty troubles after an interference penalty sat him down in the penalty box. With only a second left in the power play, Montreal defenseman Arber Xhekaj sank a blast to cut the deficit to 2-1.
It only took a minute for Barkov to answer with a breakaway shot to give the Panthers a 3-1 lead and a hat trick for the Panthers captain.
THAT'S OUR CAPTAIN 🗣️ pic.twitter.com/hbLX2Li4w2— Florida Panthers (@FlaPanthers) December 30, 2022
This is the fourth hat trick of Barkov’s career in the NHL, all with the Panthers and he’s the sixth different player in Panthers history to record a hat trick. This is also the fastest hat trick in franchise history, capping off at a time of 15 minutes and 22 seconds.
Another penalty on Florida for high-sticking, this time for four minutes, gave the Canadiens another opportunity to strike. Right-wing Josh Anderson capitalized to once again cut the Panthers lead to only a goal heading to the second period.
The Snow Keeps on Pouring Down
While Montreal kept the game close in the first period, Florida’s defense clamped up the Canadiens, dominating the majority of time on the other side of the ice. It was also thanks to goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, who racked up 25 saves on the night.
What Florida really took advantage of was penalties by Montreal, who committed six on the night. This includes a rare “too many men on the ice” call four minutes in, and left-wing Matthew Tkachuk deflected a pass by defenseman Brandon Montour right into the net, scoring the fourth goal of the game.
Monty & Chucky get it done ☑️ pic.twitter.com/MSeEq1rddU— Florida Panthers (@FlaPanthers) December 30, 2022
That was all the scoring in the second period, as while Florida held the puck for the majority of the period, they couldn’t find a clear shot but still kept a 4-2 lead safe heading to the third period.
Not Your Average Canadiens
Florida kept up the offensive firepower with three straight goals to close out the game. This began four minutes in when a solo breakaway by center Carter Verhaeghe resulted in an easy slapshot for goal #5.
Two minutes later, Montreal was called for another high-sticking penalty that the Panthers cashed in for another goal when Tkachuk landed his second shot of the night.
While Florida has been known for a lackluster power play offense dating back to last year’s Stanley Cup run, the Panthers netted three goals tonight off of power plays.
Center Eetu Luostarinen was the third and final Panther to score in the third period when he moved on a right-side pass by Montour into the left side of the net. Goaltender Sam Montembeault was shelled despite recording 34 saves, he just had to experience 41 shots slapped his way.
This pass from Benny PLEASE 🥵 pic.twitter.com/yaWSKS3dth— Florida Panthers (@FlaPanthers) December 30, 2022
What followed the Eetu goal was a bit of physicality from the Canadiens that resulted in two major fights between both teams.
Ten minutes in, the first brawl began when Montreal defenseman Joel Edmundson began throwing fists with Gudas, and once that stopped he came from behind and pushed him down to the ground.
Six penalties were handed out, including three on Edmundson essentially ejecting him from the game. Seven minutes later, another scrum broke out which saw three penalties handed out to Canadiens right-wing Brendan Gallagher and two to Montour.
Despite short-handed hockey for both teams, no other goals were scored and the game ended in a 7-2 rout.
A Statistical Breakdown, Eh?
Barkov was the man of the hour, totaling five points off of three goals and two assists with the majority of his work done in the first period. Tkachuk added on with two more goals and an assist.
41 shots were hit by Florida, dwarfing Montreal’s 27. The Panthers also won more faceoffs and recorded more takeaways, while Montreal had to block more shots to keep the game from getting way out of hand.
This win bumps up Florida’s record to 16-16-4 and keeps them in sixth place in the Atlantic Division, only in front of Montreal and the Ottawa Senators. Boston, Toronto, and Tampa Bay are still sitting at the top of the division.
After a quick matchup against the Carolina Hurricanes on Friday, the Panthers will come out of the new year on a two-game homestand against the New York Rangers and Arizona Coyotes, beginning on New Year’s Day at 5 pm.
Photo JC Ruiz