SUNRISE — It was a night for Knights on Thursday at FLA Live Arena. The Florida Panthers rookie goalie ended up being crowned King.
Spencer Knight, Florida’s 20-year-old rookie, surrendered an early goal but no more as he led the Panthers to a rousing 4-1 win over the Vegas Golden Knights.
Florida picked up its 65th point of the season — holding onto first place in the NHL at least another day.
The Panthers, coming off their longest road trip of the season, showed no ill effects from the long flight back from Winnipeg as the team played with a lot of jump throughout.
And, check Vegas off the list of Stanley Cup contenders the Panthers have beaten on home ice.
Thursday night’s Vegas victory put the Panthers at 22-3-0 on home ice with wins against some of the league’s best teams save for Toronto.
And that is only because the Leafs have not come this far south yet.
The Knights, who lost in overtime at Carolina to kick off their eastern swing, were being outshot 7-1 to start yet took the initial lead on a sweet shot from defenseman Zach Whitecloud about eight minutes in.
Florida appeared headed to the first break trailing after Carter Verhaeghe took a penalty with 1:17 remaining — only Florida’s aggressive penalty kill kept the Knights out of the offensive zone and led to Sasha Barkov’s fourth shorthanded goal of the season.
And it was a beaut, Clark.
Not only did Barkov kick things off by stripping the puck in the neutral zone, he kicked it up the ice before one-timing Anton Lundell’s perfect pass with 28.1 seconds left in the period.
The goal was barkov’s 200th of his career and 500th point.
Sam Bennett then gave the Panthers the lead just 1:19 into the second, walking in on Robin Lehner and scoring.
Florida added a pair of empty net goals — one off a great hustle play from Mason Marchment with 53.6 seconds left to seal the deal — and sent the Knights on their way.
Bennett got the second in the closing seconds to add to his goal haul for the night.
As was the case Tuesday in Winnipeg, Florida played a strong defensive game, clogging shooting lanes and keeping pressure — for the most part — off of Knight.
Knight ended the evening with 24 saves.
— In the first period, Florida sent a shoutout to Evgenii Dadonov on the scoreboard to recognize his three seasons (for a total of six) with the Panthers.
The Panthers did not mention Reilly Smith nor Jonathan Marchessault, two former Florida players who had at least a point in their previous six games against their old team.
Thursday night, neither player recorded a point.
GR’S THREE STARS OF THE GAME
1. Sasha Barkov, Florida
2. Spencer Knight, Florida
3. Sam Bennett, Florida