The Florida Panthers found a lot of offense Sunday from the backend, getting three goals from their defensemen as they ended a three-game road trip with a 5-2 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks at United Center.
Aaron Ekblad, MacKenzie Weegar and Brandon Montour represented Florida’s defensemen with Sasha Barkov and Anton Lundell scoring the other goals.
After starting the season 7-6-5 on the road, a 5-1-0 record in their last six roadies games now has the Florida Panthers a very respectable 12-7-5 away from Sunrise.
That includes a sweep of their three-game set following Florida’s two-week break following All-Star weekend.
The matchup was one featuring two of the best goaltenders in the league this season — Florida’s Sergei Bobrovsky and Chicago’s Marc-Andre Fleury.
Bobrovsky was riding a five-game winning streak heading into Sunday’s matchup, holding a 25-4-3 record with a .919/2.52 this season.
He kept the hot streak going, allowing just two goals off 24 shots faced.
Fleury, despite Chicago’s struggles, held a 16-17-4 record with a .912/2.80 heading into his matchup against the Panthers.
While he faced the sixth-most shots in the NHL (1,142) coming into the game, Fleury did not have much work to do in the first period.
After making a save off of a partial breakaway from Carter Verhaeghe 27 seconds in, Fleury did not face a shot until the 15:32 mark of the first period.
The Blackhawks were outshooting the Panthers 8-1 at that point, holding them to just one scoring chance — the Verhaeghe breakaway — to that point.
With 3:27 to go in the first period, Ekblad finally broke the ice with a one-timer off of a feed from Sam Reinhart to put the Panthers on top.
Meanwhile, Bobrovsky was bailing out the Panthers in the first period, making his first 10 saves with his team being outshot 10-2 before Ekblad’s goal.
That streak of 10 saves ended after Patrick Kane snuck Chicago’s 11th shot of the game past Bobrovsky from a wide angle with 31.1 seconds to go in the first period to tie the game up.
By the end of the first period the Blackhawks outshot the Panthers 11-3.
It was very uncharacteristic for a Florida team that averaged a league-leading 36.5 shots on goal per game before Sunday afternoon.
The second period was a different story.
The Panthers outshot the Blackhawks 5-1 in the early going of the period, but the game remained tied at one.
Just over seven minutes in, Florida coach Andrew Brunette made the decision to pair stars Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau — one he makes when he wants an offensive spark at times — for the first time that game and it paid off.
Barkov found Montour with a touch pass, who sent a wrist shot past Fleury to give the Panthers a 2-1 lead with 12:34 to go in the middle frame.
Florida headed to the power play for the first time after Calvin de Haan elbowed Mason Marchment up high with 48 seconds to to gin the second period.
They also had some momentum after Reinhart pummeled de Haan in a fight in retalition for his hit.
However, just 20 seconds into the power play, Ekblad got called for a controversial holding the stick call after Sam Lafferty’s twig got caught in between his legs.
Still, the Panthers held the momentum heading into the third period, outshooting the Blackhawks 11-8 in the second.
And they continued to hold it going into the third as the Panthers improved to 25-0-0 after holding a lead after 40 minutes of play.
Just 50 seconds into the third period, Verhaeghe found Weegar, who sent a shot trickling through Fleury to extend Florida’s lead to 3-1.
Anthony Duclair appeared to make it a 4-1 game with a rocket off of a feed from Ekblad with 12:03 remaining, but the Blackhawks challenged it for offside.
Upon review, the play was indeed offside and the goal was wiped from the scoreboard.
The third period was still dominated by the Panthers, who had an 8-0 lead in shots at that point.
The Blackhawks went to the power play for the fourth time of the game as Radko Gudas took an interference penalty with 9:22 to go.
While Florida killed the penalty off, Jones snuck a shot past Bobrovsky just as the penalty expired to cut the lead to 3-2.
With 1:42 left, Barkov put the icing on the cake with an empty net goal. Lundell was credited with the other one.
Florida returns to the friendly confines of FLA Live Arena for a five-game homestand, a place where they hold a 23-3-0 record.
Colby’s Three Stars of the Game
1. Sasha Barkov, Florida
2. Aaron Ekblad, Florida
3. Jonathan Huberdeau, Florida