The Florida Panthers had not started their games off in optimum ways before Thursday night in Nashville.
When Carter Verhaeghe scored 6:29 in, it was the first time in six games in which the Panthers scored first.
Florida would build up to a 3-0 lead en route to a 5-4 nail biter against a Predators team that does not seem to quit.
Well, at least against the Panthers.
The Panthers will try to win their fourth consecutive game and second this season at Bridgestone Arena when the two teams meet up for an afternoon kickoff at 2.
Florida is 2-0-1 against Nashville this season with all three games decided by a goal.
In the first meeting on Feb. 4, the Panthers held a two-goal lead late in the third period before Nashville tied it up and eventually won in overtime. The next day, Florida won 2-1.
Goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, who will start again Saturday, was on the ice for both of Nashville’s comebacks.
He said Thursday night that goalies have “to have a short memory” and he didn’t even recall what the Preds did the last time he faced them.
“I focus on one moment, one shot, one shift,” said Bobrovsky, who made 31 saves on Thursday.
“I tried to read the game, they are aggressive and I had to fight the puck. I thought I did a pretty good job with those things.”
Lineup changes for Nashville Matinee
Quenneville said defenseman Anton Stralman would not play Saturday afternoon in Nashville.
Stralman played the first two periods Thursday but did not come out for the third on Thursday.
With Stralman out, the Panthers will likely turn to either Riley Stillman or Kevin Connauton.
Although Markus Nutivaara is close to coming off IR, Quenneville did not think he would be ready to go on Saturday.
“We have a couple of guys we’re thinking about,” Quenneville said. “(Nutivaara) is close but I still don’t think he’s going tomorrow. We’ll see about this trip. He’s an option.”
The Panthers were obviously thinking about Grigori Denisenko and Owen Tippett. Both players were activated from the taxi squad on Saturday morning.
— With Bobrovsky going Saturday, we can expect the Panthers to start Chris Driedger Sunday in Carolina.
Verhaeghe scores, Panthers win
Thursday’s first-period goal gave Verhaeghe eight this season which ranks him tied for third (Sasha Barkov, Aaron Ekblad) on the team behind Jonathan Huberdeau and Patric Hornqvist for the team lead.
But it was his first since Feb. 11 against the Lightning — a drought of 10 consecutive games.
Friday, Verhaeghe said while it can be frustrating to get the chances and not the goals, he knew it would come eventually.
Naturally, living through that game after game can wear on a player.
“It’s definitely a mental battle when you’re shooting the puck and it’s hitting the post or the goalie is getting a stick on it,” Verhaeghe said.
“It can be tough upstairs, but it’s just (part) of the ups-and-downs of a season. You just have to stick with it.”
For the Panthers, when Verhaeghe scores, they do pretty well.
In their 14 wins this season, Verhaeghe has seven goals and 14 points; in eight losses, he has one goal and two points.
Special, special teams
Florida’s special teams were excellent on Thursday night as the Panthers scored two goals on the power play while holding the Preds off the board when they had the advantage.
The only power play time Nashville had overlapped on back-to-back penalties on Juho Lammikko and Alex Wennberg.
Florida killed off the 5-on-3 which lasted 1:45 thanks to strong play in net from Bobrovsky as well as a couple of blocked shots from MacKenzie Weegar and Noel Acciari.
“They had a lot of time on the clock for that 5-on-3 so it was big-time, the guys made a lot of big blocks and allowed me to see the puck and I made the big saves there,” said Bobrovsky, who made four saves on that power play chance as Florida held its 3-0 lead.
“It was a good moment at that time … you never know how the game could go if they score there. Every moment is a big one.”
Florida’s penalty kill comes into the game ranked 18th in the league with a 78 percent success rate but a big reason why the Panthers are 7-1-1 away from home is their ability to kill off penalties.
The Panthers have the best road kill in the league (29 of 31 at 94%) and the worst at home (20 for 32 at 62.5%).
”This league there are a lot of special teams,” Ekblad said. “Going down two men, you obviously need great goaltending and we got it there from Bob. You just have to protect the house, not let them see anything. …
“I did not know about the road stat. That’s great. A strong penalty kill is definitely something you want to take on the road.”
The Nashville Panthers?
The Panthers are now 7-1-1 away from Sunrise this season, the best road record through nine games in franchise history.
Florida’s three-game winning streak at Bridgestone Arena is its longest ever.
The Panthers were Nashville’s first opponent in 1998 which was interesting since it had been rumored the team had eyes on relocating to Tennessee before securing an arena deal with Broward County in 1996.
With the Panthers staying in South Florida — and the Devils remaining in New Jersey — Nashville was granted an expansion team in 1997.
Florida won the first-ever game in Nashville, 1-0 on Oct. 10, 1998.
News, Notes & Numbers
Ekblad’s two goals and two assists were a career-high as it was only his second two-goal game and the first time he had two power play goals in the same game.
It was the fifth time a Florida defenseman had two power play goals. The others: Robert Svehla, Brian Campbell, Sandis Ozolinsh and Bret Hedican.
Ekblad and Hedican are the only ones to accomplish it on the road.
Now with 28 power play goals, Ekblad has surpassed Svehla for the franchise lead by a defenseman.
Ekblad’s four points also matched a franchise record for points in a regular-season game by a defenseman.
His seven goals leads all NHL defensemen this season.
— Barkov had three assists Thursday extending his point streak to four games (1-5-6).
He leads with team with 13 points (4-9-13) on the road.
— Huberdeau had a five-point night and his first NHL hat trick in the first meeting against the Preds this season.
Thursday, he had a goal and an assist giving him seven points (4-3, 7) in three games against Nashville this season.
Huberdeau also has seven points against Detroit this season but that is spread over six games.
— The Panthers had 38 shots Thursday, their ninth consecutive game with at least 35 shots on goal.
Florida Panthers at Nashville Predators
- When: Saturday, 2 p.m.
- Where: Bridgestone Arena, Nashville
- TV/Radio: FSF/560-AM
- Records/Standings: Florida 14-4-4 (3rd in Central); Nashville 10-13-0 (6th)
- All-time series: Florida leads 17-9-6 (3 ties)
- Season series: Florida leads 2-1
- Last season: Florida won both meetings (3-2, SO; 3-0)
- Panthers this week — Monday: Carolina 3, Florida 2 (OT); Thursday: Panthers 5, Nashville 4; Saturday: Panthers at Nashville, 2; Sunday: Panthers at Carolina, 5
Projected Florida Panthers lines
77 Frank Vatrano — 16 Sasha Barkov — 23 Carter Verhaeghe
11 Jonathan Huberdeau — 21 Alex Wennberg — 70 Patric Hornqvist
19 Mason Marchment — 27 Eetu Luostarinen — 14 Grigori Denisenko
94 Ryan Lomberg — 55 Noel Acciari — 74 Owen Tippett
52 MacKenzie Weegar — 5 Aaron Ekblad
42 Gustav Forsling — 7 Radko Gudas
3 Keith Yandle — 44 Kevin Connauton
72 Sergei Bobrovsky
60 Chris Dreidger
Likely scratches: F Juho Lammikko, F Vinnie Hinostroza
Taxi squad: F Brett Connolly, D Riley Stillman, G Philippe Desrosiers
Injured: F Anthony Duclair (upper body); D Noah Juulsen (not specified); D Anton Stralman (lower body)
Florida power play (17/64 26.6% — 6th in NHL)
Florida penalty kill (49/63 77.8% — 18th in NHL)
PP1: Sasha Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau, Patric Hornqvist, Aaron Ekblad, Keith Yandle
PP2: Alex Wennberg, Frank Vatrano, Mason Marchment, Carter Verhaeghe, MacKenzie Weegar
Projected Nashville Predators lines
9 Filip Forsberg — 64 Mikael Granlund — 29 Eeli Tolvanen
19 Calle Jarnkrok — 95 Matt Duchene — 23 Rocco Grimaldi
21 Nick Cousins — 92 Ryan Johansen — 33 Viktor Arvidsson
56 Erik Haula — 15 Brad Richardson — 10 Colton Sissons
59 Roman Josi — 57 Dante Fabbro
17 Ben Harpur — 14 Mattias Ekholm
90 Mark Borowiecki — 5 Matt Benning
35 Pekka Rinne
74 Jusse Saros
Nashville power play (14/77 18.2% — 21st in NHL)
Nashville penalty kill (54/77 70.1% — 29th in NHL)
PP1: Nick Cousins, Mikael Granlund, Filip Forsberg, Ryan Johanssen, Roman Josi
PP2: Eeli Tolvanen, Matt Duchene, Viktor Arvidsson, Erik Haula, Mikael Granlund