Aaron Ekblad was raised on Detroit Red Wings hockey and was absolutely thrilled to play his first game at Joe Louis Arena as a rookie with the Florida Panthers back in 2014.
Since the kid from nearby Windsor, Ont., joined the Panthers, they have not lost many games in Detroit.
Ekblad has played a big role in many of those wins.
Almost nine years to the day of his first NHL game at the famed riverside arena known simply as ‘The Joe,’ Ekblad burned his childhood team again on Friday night.
It has been a frustrating season for Ekblad as he has played through a number of injuries including two which were on public display (groin, shoulder) and one the team has not publicly disclosed.
Only on Friday night, Ekblad was back to his aggressive, goal-scoring self as he scored twice to lead the Panthers to a 3-2 win against the Red Wings.
It was Ekblad’s first goal in 18 games and his first multi-point game of the season.
One probably could have seen this game coming.
Since Ekblad joined the Panthers in 2014, they have dominated the Red Wings — especially in Detroit.
Whether it was at Joe Louis or Little Caesars Arena, Florida has now won 17 of its past 20 games in the Motor City.
The Panthers have also won the past eight games and 10 of 11 against the Red Wings since the Covid-shortened 2021 season.
“Barky gave me a pass which almost was a breakaway in front of the net,” said Ekblad, who now has six goals and 21 points in 32 games against Detroit.
“The second one was a pass off the pads. I can’t take credit for either of them.’’
Sergei Bobrovsky and Sasha Barkov, two guys who have had their own struggles during the course of this season, also came up big for the Panthers on Friday.
Both of Ekblad’s power play goals came either off a Barkov pass or a rebound from a shot from the Florida captain.
“It was a tight game 5-on-5 but their power play did not score and we did so that was the difference in the game,’’ Barkov told Bally Sports. “It was a good road win. We need to take all the good things from this game like playing hard and playing smart.
“The power play got us going. We need to play with confidence. We are going to build our game playing hard, but we also build it with confidence. Those are two very important things.”
Bobrovsky ended the night with 29 saves and made a number of big saves throughout the night — most noticeably in the opening minute of the third when the Panthers held a 2-1 lead.
“I don’t know if he was,” Ekblad said, “but Bob was first star of this game. He had a fantastic game. … He stole the game. They had some fantastic chances and he came up huge.’’
Ekblad’s second goal came at 8:16 of the third and gave the Panthers a two-goal advantage.
Even though Robby Fabbri closed the Wings back within a goal with 3:43 remaining, Bobrovsky and the Panthers bore down and held on for dear life.
They had to do so with Ekblad in the penalty box for the final 40 seconds giving Detroit a 6-on-4 with the net empty.
Florida got its first goal from Gus Forsling just over a minute after Jonatan Berggren tipped a Ben Chiarot shot early in the first period.
“There was good intensity, a good push from them,” Bobrovsky said. “I thought we protected the middle very well, handled the rebounds and the seams. It was good hockey, a good 60-minute effort for the team and a good two points for us.”
The Panthers now head to Dallas looking for their first real winning streak of the season.
Florida has won two straight games four times this season but has yet to win three in a row.
For the Panthers to claw back into the Wild Card race in the Eastern Conference, they’re going to need to go on a serious run.
“We have struggled at times this year and there are a myriad of reasons,” Ekblad said. “We believe in each other and believe we can get on a roll. Now that we are all pretty healthy and feeling good, we think we can do it.
“There is so much potential, you could see it tonight in a divisional game. We’re chasing these guys, a lot of different teams. We need to put ourselves in position to play meaningful games down the stretch and this was a good step toward that.”
PANTHERS ON DECK
FLORIDA PANTHERS AT DALLAS STARS
- When: Sunday, 3:30 p.m.
- Where: American Airlines Center, Dallas
- TV/Streaming: Bally Sports Florida; ESPN+
- Radio: WQAM 560-AM; WBZT 1230-AM (Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); SiriusXM
- Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932
- Last season: Split 1-1
- This season (Stars lead 1-0): Dallas 6, Florida 4 (Nov. 17)
- All-time regular season series: Florida leads 24-20-2, 3 tie
- Up Next for the Panthers: Tuesday at Colorado, 9:30 p.m.