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Barkov, Driedger lead Panthers over Saros and Predators

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Sasha Barkov and Anthony Duclair celebrate a Florida Panthers goal on March 13 against the Chicago Blackhawks. // Photo by Roger Topalian, 21st Century Photography

One game after making 40 saves against the Panthers, Nashville goalie Juuse Saros was at it again on Saturday. This time, his heroics in goal was not enough to save the Predators.

Saros ended up having an even bigger day with 47 saves, but a beautiful backhander from Sasha Barkov was enough to lead the Panthers to a 2-0 win.

Florida’s Chris Driedger got his first NHL shutout against the Predators in his first NHL start back in 2019 and got his second on Saturday against a Nashville team trying to get back into the playoff hunt.

Only it was the Panthers playing a desperate game Saturday, throwing everything they had against Saros while Driedger — no offense — did not have much to do.

”Both goalies,” Joel Quenneville said, “were really good. I liked how we played, how we battled.”

Driedger ended up only having to make 21 saves in the shutout.

Still.

”We played a really, really good game for 60 minutes,” Driedger said.

“We had great kills, great movement on power play. Hats off to Saros, he played a heck of a game himself. That’s a great win. Those games when the other goalie is putting on a show can get a little dicey. You have to make sure you’re sharp. One mistake can send you to overtime.”

Florida’s winning goal came from Barkov, who showed a lot of patience by holding onto the puck as he slid through the slot and waiting until Saros hit the deck before flipping the puck through.

Anthony Duclair got the final goal of the day, scoring into an empty net with 14.2 seconds left.

Saros, obviously, was sitting on the bench when that goal was scored.

”It wasn’t the prettiest game out there from both sides,” said Patric Hornqvist, who played in his 800th NHL game.

“We competed, were on the right side of the puck, won all the 50-50s. If you do that over and over, it shows in the standings. You know what? We’re a really good team.”

The Panthers bounced back from their 2-1 loss to the Preds on Thursday and will now face longtime rival Tampa Bay on Sunday afternoon.

Florida is expected to go back to Sergei Bobrovsky against the Lightning, but it is hard to take the net from someone who just got a shutout regardless of the effort it took.

”Driedgs was calm back there, made the saves when we needed them,” Hornqvist said.

WEEGAR’S NUMBERS

MacKenzie Weegar had the secondary assist on Barkov’s goal running his point streak to seven games (1-8, 9).

Not only is that a career-high for Weegar, but it ties a franchise record for consecutive games with a point by a defender.

In 2018, Keith Yandle also scored at least a point in seven consecutive games.

Weegar’s point streak is also the longest by a Florida player this season.

FIRST PERIOD HIGHLIGHTS

Saros was at the top of his game in the first period — and it was a good thing, too.

Florida bombarded the Nashville goalie, outshooting the Preds 22-7 in the opening period.

The Panthers also had two power play chances — one was for four minutes so they had three, technically — and while putting plenty of pressure on Saros, could not get anything through.

On the three power plays, Florida got off 10 of its 22 shots on goal.

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Carter Verhaeghe had a number of good looks but was stopped, as was Owen Tippett, Aaron Ekblad and Jonathan Huberdeau.

SECOND PERIOD HIGHLIGHTS

More of the same with Saros standing on his head to keep things scoreless.

Driedger got into the act with 12:13 left, making an acrobatic save as Erik Haula slid the puck across to Nick Cousins on a rare 2-on-1 rush.

”I usually try to be more technical than not and there was not a lot of technique in that one,” Driedger joked. “It was good. He made a good pass, I was a little late coming across so sometimes you just try and sell the farm. Fortunately I got a piece of it.”

Not too long after that, Barkov put the Panthers ahead with his backhanded beauty.

“That’s a big goal with a great shot,” Quenneville said.

Florida continued to pepper Saros with the usual suspects — Verhaeghe, Duclair, Frank Vatrano, Alex Wennberg — coming up empty.

By the end of the period, Saros had made 33 saves with the Panthers taking 53 shot attempts.

Huberdeau had seven shots on goal through the first two periods.

THIRD PERIOD HIGHLIGHTS

Weegar had a big scoring chance as he trailed a rush as did Barkov whose shorthanded breakaway was stuffed.

Florida got yet another power play in the second half of the period and did less with this one than any other.

The Panthers failed to get off a shot on goal until Yandle threw one up from the top of the slot with 28 seconds left.

Nashville got a power play with 2:45 left but, for some reason, kept Saros in net and struggled to get pucks through the Florida defense.

Florida’s power play ended up going 0-for-8 in this series against Saros as Nashville’s league-worst penalty kill will get a boost in the standings.

”Lot of scrambles around the net,” Quenneville said. “We didn’t cash in on our power play but I thought it was outstanding without the production. We were patient in a tight game. We didn’t get ahead of ourselves.”

GEORGE’S THREE STARS OF THE GAME

1. Sasha Barkov, Florida

2. Juuse Saros, Nashville

3. Chris Driedger, Florida

ON TAP: PANTHERS AT LIGHTNING

When: Sunday, 4 p.m.

Where: Amalie Arena, Tampa

Tickets: AVAILABLE HERE

TV/Radio: FSF/560-AM

 

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