Although the Florida Panthers gave many of their big guns the night off, the rest of their team did not take it easy on Thursday as they scored three goals in the third period to beat the host Ottawa Senators 4-0.
By beating the Senators — and watching Colorado lose to Nashville in a shootout later on — Florida clinched the NHL Presidents’ Trophy and will have home ice advantage throughout the playoffs.
Sasha Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau, Claude Giroux, Gus Forsling and MacKenzie Weegar were the Florida skaters who did not dress, but that did not seem to slow down the Panthers.
With five different players getting at least two points, Florida’s depth prevailed.
“I think the depth of our team has been on display all year and tonight was no different,” Panthers coach Andrew Brunette said.
“I think it is a tribute to our group that regardless of whoever plays, we compete. We play hard and we do the right things. We play the right way and we bought into what we were trying to do. It was fun.”
It was also a good opportunity for the Panthers to get a look at some young talent in the system.
They called up Matt Kiersted, Aleksi Heponiemi and Cole Schwindt from the Charlotte Checkers ahead of Thursday’s game with the Senators.
Schwindt, in particular, got his first fair look at NHL action.
He made his NHL debut on Dec. 16 when Florida was missing seven different players who were in Covid-19 protocol. The Panthers played two skaters short that night.
Schwindt got the call he would be going to the show at last minute and meant he would be playing in his third game in as many nights.
“I’m still kind of getting the jitters away, but knowing I played here before, it’s still the same kind of feeling coming back and playing here,” Schwindt said before the game.
He came close to scoring his first NHL goal with 2:02 left in the third period, getting a prime chance from the slot, but played well overall in a winning effort.
He won 4-6 of the faceoffs he took, blocked a shot, and logged 14:14 of ice time.
Heponiemi added two shots on goal in 12:33 while Kiersted recorded two hits, two shots, and a block in 19:43.
Chase Priskie, a candidate to join the Panthers, stayed back in Charlotte and threw out the first pitch at a Knights’ Triple-A baseball game.
“They all played great and they all brought exactly what we needed,” Brunette said of the reinforcements from Charlotte.
“They brought energy, they brought excitement and that is good for our group. It’s a long season and that was a game that does not mean a whole lot, but to get that energy excited the guys.”
With the Panthers playing their last game of the season on Saturday, Brunette said that he would make the decision on whether or not he will give Barkov, Huberdeau & Co. the day off again ahead of the game.
Even if they do, it seems like the Panthers are in good hands.
“I think it’s a good thing to get the depth guys going,” Eetu Luostarinen said. “When the playoffs start, we have a lot of guys who can play in big games and that’s huge.”
The Panthers got the scoring started with two regulars making a connection — Sam Bennett found Sam Reinhart in front, who put Florida up 1-0 just over six minutes into the game.
It was a lead that would hold for a while, as the two goaltenders combined to stop the next 33 shots they faced heading into the second intermission.
Bennett gave Spencer Knight some breathing room 1:12 into the third period, putting Florida up 2-0 off of a rebound from an Anthony Duclair shot.
Just 20 seconds later, Eetu Luostarinen picked off the puck in the neutral zone and led a 2-on-1 charge with Carter Verhaeghe — who scored top-shelf.
That line struck again with 6:52 remaining when Verhaeghe picked up his second of the night by firing off a pass from Mamin in front of the net.
“Anyone you play with on this team is a really good player and you’re lucky to play with anyone,” Verhaeghe said.
“We had some really good chemistry. Luostarinen was really good and Mamin with his speed was making a lot of good plays, it seemed like it was good right away.”
Spencer Knight picked up his second-career shutout as he stopped all 27 shots he faced.
“I think it was big for the group and it was big for him,” Brunette said.
“He was solid the whole game and I am proud of our group that we buckled down and had a checked-in mentality where we did not give up a whole lot in the third period to make sure we got him the shutout.”
PANTHERS ON DECK
FLORIDA PANTHERS AT MONTREAL CANADIENS
- When: Friday, 7 p.m.
- Where: Bell Center, Montreal
- TV/Streaming: Bally Sports Florida
- Radio: WQAM 560, SiriusXM
- Last season: Did not play
- All-time regular season series: Florida leads 51-48, 6 ties
- Season series — Florida leads 3-0: @Florida 5, Montreal 2 (Jan. 1); Florida 4, @Montreal 3 (March 24); @Florida 7, Montreal 4 (March 29)