SUNRISE — The Florida Panthers needed their top line to be at its best with the Dallas Stars in town on Wednesday.
They, and especially Evan Rodrigues, were on their game in a 5-4 victory which featured a clash of teams who were part of the NHL’s Final Four last spring.
Rodrigues picked up two goals and four points — with both of his goals coming at big moments.
“We knew it was going to be a playoff-type game,” Rodrigues said. “It’s a great team over there and the focus was just on the next shift no matter what happened. Treat it like it’s the playoffs and try to limit the momentum swings. I feel like we did a great job of that.”
He opened the scoring 4:39 into the game before scoring Florida’s fifth and final goal on the power play eight minutes into the third.
That one ended up being the difference-maker on Wednesday night.
“That was a big one for Roddy on the power play to get us up by two,” Sam Reinhart said. “It just kind of settled us down.”
While Dallas ended up getting a goal back on the power play a few minutes later, Florida’s top line of Rodrigues, Reinhart and Sasha Barkov came right back out there and helped the Panthers close out the game.
Paul Maurice liked that part of Rodrigues’ game nearly as much as the four points he scored in the first place.
“Well, they need it because they’ve been doing the right things for a while,” Maurice said of his top line’s overall effort.
“That was Evan Rodrigues’ best performance. We’ll talk about the four points; I just liked all the other stuff that he did away from pucks. He was physical, he was on pucks, he defended really hard and got a good payoff.”
That defensive game has been what has kept Rodrigues confident throughout a 10-game goal drought spanning from Nov. 10-28 despite playing with the two most potent offensive threats on the team this season.
He has been right there digging up pucks in puck battles and helping break it out so Reinhart and Barkov could get to work in the offensive one.
“That’s where our offense comes from,” Rodrigues said.
“You catch teams trying to cut through the middle or make plays and when you turn it over, you know how many goals are scored off turnovers, it’s usually what you see. You get odd-man rushes off of that.
“We’re not cheating the game. We are letting the team come to us and just pouncing on those turnovers and when we get in the zone, we’re hanging onto pucks and wearing teams down and I think those are our two focuses.”
While a lot of those plays often did not even result in assists, it certainly did not go unnoticed.
“I’m very impressed [with Rodrigues]. He’s all around a really good player,” Barkov said. “He can do everything on the ice. He can play defense. He can play offense. He can take faceoffs, even.”
He finally got his on Wednesday.
After breaking his goal drought last Thursday in Montreal, he had the confidence to look off Barkov on an odd-man rush and beat an elite goaltender in Jake Oettinger clean with a shot.
He celebrated emphatically afterward, feeling redeemed from a similar chance he was stopped on in Saturday’s loss to the New York Islanders.
“I had one against the Islanders that I should have put in and wanted back and it’s nice to bounce back and get a couple today,” Rodrigues said.
“Now I don’t grip the stick as much and it’s nice getting that one early and then our line did a great job tonight.”
PITTSBURGH PENGUINS @ FLORIDA PANTHERS
- When: Friday, 7 p.m.
- Where: Amerant Bank Arena, Sunrise
- TV/Streaming: Bally Sports Florida; ESPN+
- Radio: WAXY 790-AM; WBZT 1230-AM (Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); SiriusXM
- Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932, NHL app
- Season Series — At Florida: Friday. At Pittsburgh: Jan. 26; Feb. 14.
- Last Season: Penguins won 2-1
- All-time regular season series: Penguins lead 56-36-7, 4 ties
- Up Next for the Panthers: Sunday at Columbus, 1 p.m.