SUNRISE — The Florida Panthers returned home from a five-game road trip battered and bruised.
They certainly did not look it on Thursday.
While the Detroit Red Wings had some time to relax on Fort Lauderdale Beach following their Tuesday night win in Tampa, the Panthers flew back from Winnipeg on Wednesday with four of their regulars on the mend.
Young stars Spencer Knight and Anton Lundell were dealing with illnesses while veterans Radko Gudas and Patric Hornqvist are dealing with concussions.
Despite it all, the Panthers came out flying and worked the Detroit Red Wings 5-1 in a game they were never really threatened.
Captain Sasha Barkov made a predictible impact in his return from a lengthy six-game absence by assisting on Eetu Luostarinen’s second period goal.
“It just changes everything for you on all systems,” Panthers coach Paul Maurice said.
”He allows you to change your matchups during the game, run him against the other team’s best and make the other team’s shut down pair pick between him and Sam Bennett. It just opens up plays for the other lines.”
Barkov had been battling pnuemonia for the past few weeks, missing a total of seven games over the course of a 10–game stretch.
“It was a lot of soccer and video games for me [while I was out] but it’s never nice to be out and not helping the team,” Barkov said.
”I just needed to take some time off, get some rest and get some vitamins but now I feel a lot better.”
Barkov and his line controlled play from the start and the rest of the team followed suit.
It culminated in a game where 13 of Florida’s 18 skaters got on the scoresheet and one where the Panthers led 15-5 in shots on goal.
To that point, it had only culminated in one goal — but one which immediately set the tone for the second period.
Chris Tierney received a breakout pass from Marc Staal and turned it into his first goal as a Panther on a backhand shot, putting Florida ahead with 1:55 to go in the first.
Tierney got his second point in as many games after earning a call-up from the AHL ahead of Tuesday’s game in Winnipeg.
”I feel good,” he said. “I was playing a lot down there so it kind of built the confidence up so I came up feeling good about my game and it’s nice to contribute.”
The floodgates proceeded to open to the tune of a four-goal second period.
Eetu Luostarinen cashed in on a shot from between the circles off of a drop pass from Barkov 1:47 into the second period, then Mahura cashed in 58 seconds later to extend Florida’s lead to 3-0.
Jonathan Berggren cut the Panthers’ lead in half with a power play goal 8:08 into the frame before they answered back with two more quick goals.
Matt Kiersted restored the three-goal lead with his second career goal with 5:08 to go in the second period.
Matthew Tkachuk shook a Red Wings defender out of his skates and banged one top shelf 45 seconds later for the game’s final goal.
”I was looking for [Bennett] there the whole time on the 2-on-1 but they did good on the backcheck and they came pretty hard,” Tkachuk said.
”They kind of turned it into a 2-on-2 and I was able to get around and the only way I was able to shoot without it getting blocked was if I did it really quick. I couldn’t really pick a spot so I just tried to go far side as soon as I could.”
There was not much action in front of Sergei Bobrovsky but he helped the Panthers close this one out when he was asked to.
He saved 19 of the 20 shots he faced — including all five in the third period.
”I thought Bob was awesome for us, especially early,” Tkachuk said. “He really calmed things down for us and we were unbelievable from there.”
Since coming into the Winnnipeg game to relieve Spencer Knight, he has stopped 33 of the last 35 shots he faced.
It has been a massive step up from his 4-6-1 start that saw him put up a .878 save percentage and a 3.84 goals against average.
Knight had effectively taken over the starter’s role after that point but Bobrovsky looks to have found a groove with the 21-year-old now out with an illness.
”He needed some work to feel good,” Maurice said.
”I don’t think we have given Sergei a great chance to start and feel good in games. We haven’t given up a lot of shots but the first one is a breakaway or a 2-on-1 so I think a comfort level early on helps and his confidence just grew.”
COLBY’S THREE STARS OF THE GAME
1. Matthew Tkachuk, Florida (goal, assist)
2. Chris Tierney, Florida (first Panthers goal)
3. Sergei Bobrovsky, Florida (19 saves, win)
PANTHERS ON DECK
FLORIDA PANTHERS AT TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING
- When: Saturday, 4:30 p.m.
- Where: Amalie Arena, Tampa
- TV/Streaming: Bally Sports Florida; ESPN+
- Radio: WPOW 96.5-FM 2; WBZT 1230-AM (Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); SiriusXM
- Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932
- Season Series (Tampa Bay leads 1-0): Lightning 3, Panthers 2 OT (Oct. 22)
- Last season: Split four regular season games; Tampa won second-round playoff series 4-0
- All-time regular season series: Florida leads 73-49-19, 10 ties
- Up Next for the Panthers: Sunday vs. Seattle Kraken, 6 p.m.