As was the case in Saturday night’s win over the Detroit Red Wings, the Florida Panthers had their power play humming Sunday at Little Caesars Arena.
The Panthers got a pair of second-period goals from Patric Hornqvist and Aaron Ekblad as well as 32 saves from Chris Driedger to beat the Wings 3-2 and sweep the weekend series.
With those two goals, the Panthers actually held a lead going into the third period and expanded it when Carter Verhaeghe scored off a nice feed from Sasha Barkov.
Detroit got an Anthony Mantha goal with 1:48 left to cut the Florida lead to a goal.
”Give Detroit credit, they came out hot both games and played really good both games,” Barkov said. “But, we found a way to win both games.”
The Panthers have now won their past five games in Detroit, their past eight overall against the Red Wings and have earned at least a point in their past 10 games of the series.
Detroit visits Sunrise this coming weekend as the eight-game season series continues.
Florida has also opened up its season as well as anyone could have hoped.
The Panthers are now 5-0-1 and headed home for a day off and a few days of practice before playing host to Nashville for a back-to-back set which starts Thursday night.
The only blemish on the record is a four-round shootout loss in Columbus this past Thursday giving Florida seven of the available eight points on this four-game trip.
”When we get down, we get ourselves right back in the game rather quickly,’’ coach Joel Quenneville said.
“I thought we had a real tough first period. Detroit came out strong, had a couple of power plays … we caught up to the game a little. I thought our pace in the second period, we played the right way. We were direct, went on the attack.’’
Sunday’s win was only the second of the season which came in regulation and the first since Florida beat Chicago on opening night.
As Driedger ran his record to 2-0-1 this season, Thomas Greiss remained winless for the Wings this season as he faced the Panthers for the second consecutive night.
Greiss, as usual, was good against the Panthers as he made 27 saves before being pulled with 3:28 left for the extra attacker.
Florida ended up going 2-for-3 on the power play and shut down all three of Detroit’s chances with the advantage. Detroit went 0-for-7 against the Panthers over the weekend as Florida only gave up one power play goal on this trip.
”We got a timely power play goal from Ekblad, giving a different look with him on the other side,” Quenneville said. “He had a nice one-timer and beat him. …
“Special teams are going to be huge especially as you get the familiarity of teams within the division as you go along. We had some big kills to get through as well. Sometimes your best penalty killer can be your goalie and I thought Driedger was outstanding tonight.”
First period highlights
The Red Wings caught the Panthers napping a bit at the start of this one as they were outshooting Florida 9-2 with a 16-5 shot attempt advantage in the first 10:45.
Florida did not get its first shot off toward Greiss until the 7:50 mark of the period — and were already down 1-0.
The Panthers went down 4:12 into the period when Owen Tippett gave up the puck in the neutral zone with Givani Smith picking it up and leading the rush.
Dylan Larkin make it 1-0 as he walked in on Driedger and tossed a backhander through.
To add insult to goal, the Panthers had to go back on the kill when Keith Yandle was flagged for an unsportsmanlike penalty following the play.
The Panthers had a few good scoring opportunities in the second half of the period as they got two power play chances but failed to score.
The first real chance came when Anthony Duclair forwarded a pass to Verhaghe in the slot — only he was being hooked by Marc Staal leading to the first power play chance.
On the second power play, Hornqvist got off a pair of shots that Greiss made the save on.
Tippett only played two more shifts after the turnover in the period as Aleksi Heponiemi moved up to his spot on the third line.
He played a lot more in the final 40 — and got off a few shots of his own.
Florida ended the period being outshot 13-6. The Wings had 20 shot attempts with Florida getting off 15.
”I felt good. We had a little bit of action from the start,’’ Driedger said. “I got into it quick because they came out hot. But I thought after that, we sort of buckled down and played some good hockey as a team and ultimately got the two points.”
Second period highlights
Florida got an early power play chance after a scary sequence in which MacKenzie Weegar had to make a trip to the locker room.
Just 25 seconds into the period, Michael Rasmussen slammed Weegar into the boards at center ice as he was going down for the puck.
The initial call was a five-minute major for charging, but after review, Rasmussen stayed in the game with a pair of minors (boarding, roughing) with Ekblad getting hit with a roughing for coming to Weegar’s defense.
Weegar was back on the bench by the time the new penalties came down.
On the ensuing power play, Hornqvist got in position, worked the puck and finally shoveled it through at 2:03 to tie things at 1.
It was the fifth goal of the year — not including his game-winning shootout shot in Columbus — since Hornqvist came over from the Penguins.
”I think on the first shift of the second period,” Hornqvist told FSF postgame, “we took control of the game.”
Patric Hornqvist's SOOOO DISRUPTIVE when he camps out in front of that net! ⛺
— FOX Sports Florida & Sun (@FOXSportsFL) January 31, 2021
Roles were reversed in the second as it took the Wings six minutes to get off their first shot as Florida pushed the play.
Detroit got its third power play on a Markus Nutivaara penalty at 7:23 but didn’t do anything with it.
With 5:22 left, Darren Helm went to the box and 26 seconds later, Ekblad fired a shot from the left circle to give the Panthers their first lead on Detroit since it was 1-0 in the first period of Game 1.
Aaron Ekblad's ONE-TIMER BLAST puts the #FlaPanthers on top! 🚀
— FOX Sports Florida & Sun (@FOXSportsFL) January 31, 2021
Florida outshot the Wings 17-9 in the second and went into the third with a lead.
It was the first time since the opener against Chicago in which the Panthers held a lead in the third period this season.
Third period highlights
Florida was not only able to sustain the aforementioned third-period lead — but add to it.
At 8:09, Barkov had control of the puck on a delayed penalty and saw Verhaeghe down low. Barkov fired a shot and Verhaeghe knocked it through for his fifth goal of the season.
With 3:28 left, Greiss was pulled for the extra attacker and Anthony Mantha scored with 1:48 left following an icing call.
Up Next: Nashville Predators at Florida Panthers
When: Thursday, 7 p.m.
Where: BB&T Center, Sunrise (tickets available)