It took the Panthers a little while to get going Saturday afternoon at Nashville, but once they got their second cup of coffee, Florida got down to business.
And that business, at least lately in Nashville, has been about winning.
Florida won its fourth consecutive game at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena as they woke up from a first period malaise and eased its way to a 6-2 victory over the Predators.
”It was a dangerous game for us,” Joel Quenneville said. “We thought it would be a tough one in the afternoon and I thought we responded as the game went along. The first 10 minutes we were not there, had a good finish with a goal and then a lot of good things happened.”
The Panthers bounced back from a pair of OT/shootout losses to Carolina earlier in the week to sweep this two-game set from the Preds in regulation.
Florida gets back at it Sunday evening in Carolina at 5.
And, Noel Acciari will be looking to replicate the feat he accomplished last season when he scored a hat trick in back-to-back games.
”A lot of guys are putting a lot of pressure on my about tomorrow,” he joked.
Acciari, who had no goals coming into Saturday, ended up getting his third hat trick on Saturday as he scored twice in the second period and then put the finishing touches on things in the third.
”It was a great feeling, I was just hoping to get one and get my first of the season,” Acciari said. “To get two more, it is definitely exciting.”
The big news of the day came early when Florida announced it was activating rookie Grigori Denisenko from the taxi squad.
Denisenko, the Panthers’ first-round pick in 2018, made his NHL debut and ended up with two shots on goal.
Down 1-0 on a power play goal (just the third the Florida penalty kill has surrendered on the road this season), the Panthers eventually sprung to life.
In the waning moments of the first period, Aaron Ekblad got his ninth goal of the season — which leads all NHL defensemen — to tie the score.
The Panthers kept up their wave of momentum in the second with Jonathan Huberdeau breaking loose off a stretch pass and freezing Rinne before going top-shelf.
That gave Florida a lead it would not surrender.
Midway through the period, Acciari got into the action, scoring his first goal of the season when he picked up the puck at center ice, stormed through the zone and went top shelf.
With 1:13 left in the second, he hopped on a rebound off a long shot from Keith Yandle and put it into the back of the net to give Florida a comfortable 4-1 lead going into the third.
Nashville came out flying in the third and cut the Panthers’ lead to two goals just 19 seconds into the period.
But the Panthers kept their composure, kept coming at Rinne (26 saves) and ended up getting their three-goal lead back when Frank Vatrano salted the game away with five minutes left.
Acciari was not done, however, as he got his third hat trick with 3:02 left on the clock.
Sergei Bobrovsky was strong throughout the game but especially in the third period as he notched his second consecutive victory by making 28 saves.
First period highlights
Early on, it was all Nashville as the Panthers slogged through the first half of the period.
Nashville led 1-0 on a power play goal from Eeli Tolvanen and were outshooting the Cats 10-0 before Barkov finally threw something toward Rinne.
Gustav Forsling had Florida’s first real scoring chance of the period with 7:04 left with MacKenzie Weegar quickly following suit.
With 12.6 seconds left in the period, Ekblad scored on a nice wrist shot to tie the score heading into the second.
”That really changed the complexion of the game,” Quenneville said. “We fed off of that going into the second.”
On the stat sheet, Florida was outshot 12-9 with Nashville taking 21 shot attempts to Florida’s 18.
”We showed some resilience out there, scoring a big goal at the end of the first and took over in the second,” said Patric Hornqvist, who got his 500th NHL point with an assist on Huberdeau’s goal in the second.
”Big effort from all 20 guys.”
Second period highlights
What a difference a period makes, eh?
After looking lost at the start of this game, the Panthers were flying high again in the second and scored three times to take a commanding 4-1 lead into the third.
Huberdeau got the fun going with Acciari scoring twice to put the finishing touches on a period the Panthers dominated.
”I was just trying not to grip the stick too tightly and get that first one,” Acciari said. “Goals come in bunches sometimes and I got three tonight. Hopefully I can continue with that game and try to help the team either getting on the board or blocking a shot.”
The Panthers threw up a ton of rubber in Rinne’s direction, being credited for 11 shots and 21 shot attempts in the period.
Nashville looked like a defeated team as the period wore on as the Preds’ season is quickly slipping away.
The Preds, who controlled the pace and flow of the game for the first 10-plus minutes, were in control of nothing in the second period.
Nashville was held to six SOG in the second period.
Third period highlights
Quenneville said Friday that he knew Nashville would “take its turn” and it did so early in the third.
After winning a faceoff in the defensive zone, the Preds cut it to 4-2 just 19 seconds into the period on a goal from Viktor Arvidsson.
Nashville kept the pressure up, but the Panthers withstood it and got some good looks at Rinne throughout.
Midway through the period, Bobrovsky was upended by Filip Forsberg and he took a little extra time getting up and back in net.
Florida had a handful of big scoring chances on the power play with Ekblad being stopped twice on one-timers with Carter Verhaeghe also being denied.
The Panthers put the game on ice with 5:03 left when Vatrano scored off a feed from Barkov.
Acciari finally ended the scoring and was able to celebrate yet another hat trick.
”He either scores none or he scores three,’’ Quenneville said. “He gets three at time three times and that’s pretty impressive. Nice to see him score. He’s been pressing a little bit around the net there. He doesn’t get a ton of chances but he’s pretty nifty. Tonight they were going on.”
Up Next: Panthers at Carolina
When: Sunday, 5 p.m.
Where: PNC Arena, Raleigh