SUNRISE — Not long after Aaron Ekblad intercepted a pass at center ice and drove in for the highlight goal in what is becoming a career season for the Florida Panthers defenseman, the ‘Spittin’ Chiclets’ Twitter account came up with the perfect description of the goal.
They called it a ‘Pick 6.’
You simply cannot come up with anything better than that.
Ekblad, a football fan known to frequent Dolphins games, loves seeing his team pull off the ol’ Pick-6 play, which basically means a defensive player intercepted a pass and taking it all the way in for a touchdown.
Tuesday night, Ekblad picked off Ryan Johansen’s pass by leaping in the air to knock it down, got it on his stick, waltzed through the defense, walked around Mattias Ekholm and took it to the house.
Just last week Ekblad said he “truly have absolutely no idea what to do on breakaways.”
Looks like he does now.
On Tuesday night, less than a week after he beat Carolina in overtime by scoring off a Jonathan Huberdeau (speaking of the Dolphins) pass, Ekblad did it again.
“I mean, if you don’t know what to do, the goalie doesn’t know that’s for sure,” Sasha Barkov joked Wednesday.
Added Andrew Brunette: “I think for him, just think less and let your instincts take over.”
Although Tuesday’s goal was not as consequential as the one in Raleigh — the Panthers ended up losing that 3-1 lead moments later before losing the game 6-4 — it was one that will not be forgotten for some time.
It was a work of art.
“That goal, if you snip it out and cut it out and send it to the Norris voters you could not get a clearer picture of what a Norris Trophy winner looks like,’’ Brunette said.
“And that was all in one shift. It was nice. He is having a great year. You could caption just that (play) and everything you want in a defenseman is right there.”
EKBLAD PICK 6 pic.twitter.com/dLHOLvFwWr
— Spittin' Chiclets (@spittinchiclets) February 23, 2022
Brunette calling on Ekblad as a legit Norris Trophy candidate is not a coach pumping his own player’s tires.
Ekblad, barring injury, will more than likely be a Norris finalist and could win the award for the NHL’s top defenseman.
If he does, Ekblad would be the first Florida Panthers player so honored.
“Barring injury” is probably something Ekblad does not want to hear because he was well on his way to winning the Norris last season before a fractured ankle sustained in March ended his campaign prematurely.
To say Ekblad picked up where he left off is not fair.
He has been better.
Last year, Ekblad had 11 goals and 22 points in 35 games before his season came to a close.
This season, he not only has 14 goals, but is nearly a point-a-game player with 48 in 50.
Coming into Wednesday, Ekblad ranks second among NHL defensemen in goals, fourth in points, seventh in assists and second at plus-35.
It has been one heck of a year for No. 5 — and he is not even close to being done.
He also comes into Thursday night’s game against Columbus riding a four-game goal streak and a six-game scoring run.
“He has been unreal for us,” Gus Forsling said. “He does a little bit of everything. He scores, makes good plays back there too.”
Moments before Ekblad’s highlight play, he was caught by in-arena cameras sitting at the end of the bench.
Next to him, in the glass-enclosed seats between the benches, sat a little kid who was staring at the hulking hockey player separated only by some plexiglas.
The kid gave Ekblad — who was breathing a bit heavy, just off a shift — a little wave.
Ekblad grinned and waved back.
Good night for both of them.
— Florida Panthers (@FlaPanthers) February 24, 2022
BLACK HISTORY NIGHT
The Panthers have been recognizing South Florida residents “who are making an impactful difference in the local community” each day in February in honor of Black History Month.
Thursday night, the team will welcome the 28 nominees to FLA Live Arena.
The 28 nominees — which have included Nat Moore and Henri Crockett — can be found here.
Also on Thursday, the Panthers will have a pregame performance in front of the arena as well as intermission performances from the Florida Memorial Marching Band and National Panhellenic Council (NPHC) Divine Nine Step Teams.
Florida Memorial University is a private historically black university in Miami Gardens.
Saxophonist Jon Saxx will perform the national anthem.
FLORIDA PANTHERS ON DECK
COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS AT FLORIDA PANTHERS
- When: Thursday, 7 p.m.
- Where: FLA Live Arena, Sunrise
- Tickets: CLICK HERE
- Streaming only: Hulu/ESPN+
- Radio: WQAM 560-AM, SiriusXM
- Fanduel’s NHL odds — Florida favored: Puck line (-2.5, -105); Money line (-430); Over/Under 7 (+100/-122)
- Last season: Florida won 7-0-1
- This season — Florida leads 2-0: @Florida 9, Columbus 2 (Jan. 15); Florida 8, @Columbus 4 (Jan. 31)
- All-time regular season series: Columbus leads 24-15-4