The focus before Tuesday’s game surrounded all the Florida Panthers who used to play for the Columbus Blue Jackets.
For the Panthers, it was the new guy from Pittsburgh who saved the day.
Although goalie Sergei Bobrovsky played a big role against his former team, it was Patric Hornqvist who scored with 2.9 seconds left off a shot from Aaron Ekblad to force overtime.
The two teams played a scoreless extra frame — despite the Blue Jackets having a power play for much of the second half of OT — with Hornqvist (why not?) scoring in the fifth round to lead Florida to a 4-3 shootout victory.
“This is a huge win for us,” said Hornqvist, who has four goals in three games with the Panthers since the two-time Cup champ came over from the Penguins in the Mike Matheson deal.
“I think over the 65 minutes, we played really good hockey. When you do that over a long period of time, you’re going to get rewarded. We got the win in the shootout and we’ll take that. We came back strong, did the right things all over the ice for 65 minutes. That’s what it is going to take.”
The win was Florida’s first in Columbus since 2015 — and marks the franchise’s first 3-0 start to a season.
The Blue Jackets did extend their home point streak against the Panthers to 15 games (13-0-2).
”He was huge for us tonight and will be huge for us all season,” Sasha Barkov said of Hornqvist.
“It helps us a lot to have a veteran guy like that out on the ice and in the locker room.”
The two teams will meet again Thursday as Tuesday marked the first of eight matchups between the new Central Division rivals.
Tuesday, Columbus took an early 2-0 lead on a pair of shots that were deflected either by a Florida player or one in a Blue Jackets sweater.
The Panthers cut the deficit when Carter Verhaeghe got his third goal in as many games with his new squad in the first. Early in the second, Barkov got his first of the year — off a pass from Verhaeghe.
But it was Cam Atkinson breaking through on a Florida power play and beating his former teammate Bobrovsky (19 saves in regulation/OT) which almost turned out to be the difference.
Bobrovsky is now 2-1-1 against the Blue Jackets since leaving for Florida in 2019.
Tuesday was his first win at Nationwide Arena since he wore Columbus blue.
Joonas Korpisalo, Bobrovsky’s former backup, was in net against Bobrovsky for the first time and made 28 saves.
”I think from start to finish, we deserved that win tonight,” coach Joel Quenneville said.
“We did a lot of great things.”
Now, on to the highlights…
First period highlights
The Blue Jackets got the quick jump on the Panthers, with Kevin Stenlund scoring when he fired a shot from Mikko Koivu that slid under a diving Radko Gudas, appeared to hit the Florida defenseman’s knee and went past Bobrovsky at 2:11 of the period.
Florida got a couple of scoring chances following the initial goal, with Anthony Duclair being stopped in front twice. A Patric Hornqvist deflection hit the post.
Although Columbus had been bottled up a bit, midway through the first it took a 2-0 lead when Boone Jenner stole the puck from MacKenzie Weegar along the side boards.
Jenner tossed the puck toward Oliver Bjorkstrand who batted it down, fired off a shot that went off of Alexandre Texier and by Bobrovsky at 9:18.
The Panthers got a power play chance when Nick Foligno went to the box but the Panthers did not muster much, getting just one shot on goal.
As Foligno raced out of the box, Columbus got the puck in deep but turned it over to Anthony Duclair who raced up with Carter Verhaeghe on a 2-on-1.
Duclair kept the puck, shot it but missed; Verhaeghe chased it down behind the net and fired a shot that banked off Korpisalo and into the net to make it 2-1 at 13:11.
Carter's fitting in just fine as a Cat. ☑️ pic.twitter.com/NoC21dcHP4
— Florida Panthers (@FlaPanthers) January 27, 2021
Moments later, the Panthers had a chance to tie it when Noel Acciari’s shot went off the post.
Florida had possession deep in the offensive zone but the push ended when Weegar was called for a hold that gave the Jackets their first power play of the night. They failed to get a shot off.
Late in the first, Owen Tippett was hit with four minutes for high sticking.
Florida allowed one shot in the final 2:30 of the period and went into the room down 2-1.
The Panthers outshot Columbus 10-3 in the period.
Second period highlights
Florida killed off the final 90 seconds of the Tippett penalty with no damage done as Acciari blocked a final shot attempt and the puck was cleared.
The Panthers continued to push the pace of play as they had throughout the first period, and had a 26-7 advantage at shot attempts when Barkov tied the score at 2.
Barkov, who ended the second period with seven shots on goal (Columbus had a grand total of nine), slid into the right circle unopposed and wristed a shot from Verhaeghe at 3:53.
Not long later, Barkov had a shot go off the post (his one shot attempt not on goal) as the Panthers continued to stay aggressive with the puck.
At one point in the second, Barkov had seven shots on goal to Columbus’ five.
THE CAPTAIN 🔥 pic.twitter.com/y579xA2oXL
— Florida Panthers (@FlaPanthers) January 27, 2021
The Panthers got a power play chance at 6:30 when David Savard went in, but 32 seconds in, Aaron Ekblad was called for a slash after Columbus cleared to cut the power play short.
The period ended tied at 2 with the Panthers dominating puck possession through the opening 40 minutes.
Florida went into the second intermission with a 35-19 shot attempt advantage and outshot the Jackets 16-9.
Third period highlights
The Panthers got a quick break when Koivu was called for hooking Duclair, only the Jackets were the ones to cash in.
After Florida lost the puck deep in its zone, Foligno flashed a nice pash to a streaking Atkinson who walked in on Bobrovsky and scored the short-handed goal with a nice wrist shot at 1:20.
Atkinson had left the ice after blocking a shot late in the second but obviously felt good enough to keep going.
For the Jackets, good thing he did.
With 14:25 left, Savard and Hornqvist — who had many battles during Hornqvist’s Pittsburgh days — got reacquainted during a scrum near the net after Korpisalo took a hit.
Midway through the period, Gudas took a penalty but the much maligned Columbus power play unit did not do a whole lot with the opportunity, getting off one shot that Bobrovsky blocked with his shoulder.
Bobrovsky was on the bench and the Florida net was open when the Panthers forced OT when Hornqvist batted a shot past Korpisalo with 2.9 seconds remaining.
Florida had a chance to win it when Verhaeghe hit the post — and almost lost it when the Jackets got a penalty with 2:16 remaining.
Vatrano was called for tripping Max Domi and, under overtime rules, it went to 4-on-3 play.
Florida killed it as Columbus went 0-for-6 on the power play on the night.
The Panthers took a 1-0 lead in the second round when Jonathan Huberdeau scored. Florida, shooting second, had a chance to win it in Round 3 but Anthony Duclair was stopped.
Columbus did not score again.
In the fifth round, Hornqvist walked in and scored fairly easily. Not bad for a guy who had never scored a shootout goal before.
Late game-tying goal for Patric Hornqvist. ⚾ pic.twitter.com/Rn6qK7AtjG
— NHL (@NHL) January 27, 2021
UP NEXT FOR THE PANTHERS
Thursday: At Columbus, 7 p.m.; Saturday: At Detroit, 7 p.m.; Sunday: At Detroit, 5 p.m.