Down Three Players, Florida Panthers Slay the Kraken
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The Florida Panthers started Saturday night’s game in Seattle already down a player with Anton Lundell unavailable after getting hurt Thursday night.
Adding insult to their injuries, Florida then lost Radko Gudas in the first period and Patric Hornqvist in the second.
Tall order, then, for the Panthers to beat a Kraken team which had won seven straight and 12 of 14.
Did we mention the Panthers, despite running roughshod throughout the NHL last season, could not beat the expansion Kraken?
Despite it all, the shorthanded Panthers took it to Seattle on Saturday night, getting two early goals from Carter Verhaeghe and a spectacular game from Spencer Knight in what turned into an unexpected 5-1 win.
Florida also got goals from Matthew Tkachuk, Aleksi Heponiemi and Gus Forsling as the Panthers went 3-for-4 on the power play and never trailed.
The Panthers, who have won their past two games after a three-game slide, will take Sunday off in Wyoming before moving on to face Winnipeg on Tuesday night to wrap up this five-game trip.
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Florida is 2-1-1 on this western swing, one which started with an overtime loss in Edmonton and then a loss at Calgary the following night.
The Panthers have outscored Vancouver and Seattle 10-2 in the past two wins with Knight getting a total of 67 saves.
To call this a gutsy win for the Panthers does not do it justice.
This team really pulled together to get this one.
”The guys dug in,” said Knight, who ended his 50th NHL game with 35 saves and his eighth win of the season.
“We stuck to the plan, played simple all the way to the end. Even at the end when we were on a penalty kill, (Brandon) Montour blocked a shot. I don’t know if he meant to, but he blocked it so that counts. It was that kind of thing. We don’t change. We just play. It just meant more time, more minutes. We had a lot of fun.”
Coach Paul Maurice did not have an update on either Gudas or Hornqvist, saying both “have to see a doctor.’’
Gudas’ injury did not look good as he collided with Sam Bennett and Jared McCann along the boards and went down, crawling the bench.
His teammates pulled him over the step and Gudas had to be helped into the room.
Hornqvist took a high hit in passing from Daniel Sprong, having to be attended to by head athletic trainer Dave DiNapoli.
“They may be fine,” Maurice said, “but they’re both going to have to see a doc.”
Florida opened the scoring when Verhaeghe scored into an empty net after goalie Philipp Grubauer came out of his crease and collided with Marc Staal at the 13-minute mark. Seattle challenged and lost, giving the Panthers their first power play chance of the night.
Verhaeghe got his second 26 seconds later, pulling down a rebound off a Brandon Montour shot and spinning around before flying one past the Seattle netminder.
McCann, traded from the Panthers to Pittsburgh in the Nick Bjugstad deal in 2019, scored an angry goal as he worked toward the net and beat Knight — slamming the cage off its moorings afterward.
That was as close as the Kraken got.
”We were good and solid throughout it,” Maurice said. “That was a good player-win. The players took hold of the game. They did that in Van, but it was a great bench. I enjoyed it.”
Hornqvist got hurt not long after but the Panthers kept coming, getting the two-goal lead on their third power play on a Tkachuk deflection off a shot from Aaron Ekblad.
The Kraken kept coming at Knight, outshooting the Panthers 13-2 in the second, but he stood strong and the Panthers closed things out in the third.
Heponiemi’s shot got underneath Grubauer at 7:49 as the Seattle goalie pushed the puck home on his own; Forsling’s power play shot from 40-feet out all but put the game on ice with 6:58 left.
”We wee short to start and then a couple guys go down,’’ Marc Staal said, “and I thought Knighter made some big saves early. They were buzzing around and he calms us down. Our special teams came up big. Nice team win.”
GR’S THREE STARS OF THE GAME
1. Spencer Knight, Florida (35 saves)
2. Carter Verhaeghe, Florida (2 goals)
3. Matthew Tkachuk, Florida (goal, assist)
PANTHERS ON DECK
FLORIDA PANTHERS AT WINNIPEG JETS
- When: Tuesday, 8 p.m.
- Where: Canada Life Center; Winnipeg, Manitoba
- TV: Bally Sports Florida; ESPN+
- Radio: WPOW 96.5-FM2; WBZT 1230-AM (Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); SiriusXM
- Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932
- Last season: Florida won 2-0
- All-time regular season series: Atlanta Thrashers/Winnipeg Jets lead 50-31-8, 5 ties
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