SUNRISE — Before playing the Florida Panthers for the first time as an opponent, Jonathan Huberdeau said he wanted to receive one last pass from longtime friend Sasha Barkov.
It had been four months since Huberdeau was sent to Calgary along with longtime defensive stalwart MacKenzie Weegar in a blockbuster deal for Matthew Tkachuk.
After spending 10 years in Sunrise — nine of which were alongside Barkov — and breaking numerous franchise records in the procress, he knew his return was going to be emotional.
Even moreso when he saw Barkov.
“Barky and I have been together so many years and have great chemistry but now we have to play against each other. It’s going to be tough,” Huberdeau said on Friday.
“Maybe he will pass it to me.”
They both got that opportunity during warmups.
Huberdeau first sent a pass up the ice to his pal and Barkov scored it on the empty net.
Barkov then returned the favor.
”It was a bad pass,” Barkov joked. “He is used to bad passes.”
Fans then got their chance to give them a standing ovation just before both players headed to the dressing room after warmups.
“I didn’t expect to have that many [Huberdeau] jerseys out there and that was cool to see that,” he said. “I’ve been here a long time and I think they gave me a great ovation, so that was cool.”
But those cheers turned to boos for Huberdeau just before he scored a shootout goal that helped Calgary to a 5-4 win.
“I kind of know Knighter thought I would probably deke so, that’s why I took a shot to surprise him,” he said.
After Panthers fans gave the two longtime stars one last ovation following a combined video tribute for the two in the first period, both sides were ready to move on.
To the joy of Flames coach Darryl Sutter, specifically.
“To be quite honest, there’s been way too much talk about it,” he said.
”Guys get traded, guys sign. What’s the big deal? [Nazem Kadri] won a Stanley Cup last year and he played his first game against Colorado and it wasn’t a big deal. First game of the year. But this is a big deal? Good players move around, it’s what they do. I said it before, somebody gives you $75 million, we’re all going.”
The Flames moved on quickly and started the scoring just over a minute after the cheers ended.
Adam Ruzicka received a feed from Noah Hanifin and snapped it past Spencer Knight with 4:47 to go in the second period to put the Flames ahead.
It ended an 8-for-8 stretch for Florida’s penalty kill that spanned over the past two games.
The Panthers last allowed a shorthanded goal in their 4-2 loss to the Edmonton Oilers after killing off all four Edmonton power plays beforehand.
Nikita Zadorov doubled Calgary’s lead to 2-0 with a wrist shot off the rush just 51 seconds into the second period. He zipped in on the rush and ripped a feed from Ruzicka past Knight.
Colin White got the Panthers back into the game 1:39 later, picking Jacob Markstrom’s pocket behind the net and scoring on a wrap around before he could get back into position.
Florida then tied it on the power play after some crisp puck movement from the top unit resulted in a play where Matthew Tkachuk found a wide-open Sam Reinhart in front. He slid it past Markstrom to extend his three-game goal streak.
Reinhart went his first 11 games without a goal and now has five goals in his last six games.
His goal also extended a six-game power play goal streak for the Panthers. Florida’s power play ranks No. 1 in the league at 8-for-20 since Nov. 6.
”It has been trending in the right direction for a while now,” Paul Maurice said.
”Over the last 10 or 11 games, our power play has been pretty good. It has been generating goals and it has been generating chances.”
Knight made a big sprawling save on Tyler Toffoli with 7:04 to go in the second period to keep it 3-2, but it would not stay that way for long.
Ruzicka wired a slap shot off the ensuing faceoff just two seconds later to restore Calgary’s lead.
Eetu Luostarinen quickly tied it up 1:12 into the third after picking up a rebound of a Gus Forsling shot and putting it into the open net. Bennett nudged that rebound over to Luostarinen to pick up his fourth assist in the last two games.
Blake Coleman tied the game up with a wrist shot off of a pass from Mikael Backlund 6:56 into the third period.
Tkachuk did not let his old team ride out with the win easily.
He tipped the shot of another former flame, Bennett, past Markstrom with 6:14 to go to tie the game for the Panthers and send the game to overtime.
While he would not admit that it meant more scoring it against his former team of the last six years, he did say it felt good to get the game to overtime.
”It felt like we were dominating them and we were down 4-3 somehow,” Tkachuk said.
”They played solid at the start, they did not give us much, but then we took over in the second period and it felt like they were hanging on for a bit in the third. Even after it was 4-4, they had some looks as well, but it was back and forth in the third, probably moreso than we liked.”
Neither team could get much going in 3-on-3 play — with just a combined four shots from the two teams in the five-minute period — forcing a shootout.
Rasmus Andersson scored the shootout winner in the fifth round for the Flames to finish off the Panthers.
Florida will look to end its two-game skid in Columbus on Sunday night with Sergei Bobrovsky in net per Maurice.
COLBY’S THREE STARS OF THE GAME
1. Adam Ruzicka, Calgary (two goals, assist)
2. Matthew Tkachuk, Florida (goal, assist)
3. Sam Bennett, Florida (two assists)
PANTHERS ON DECK
FLORIDA PANTHERS AT COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS
- When: Sunday, 6 p.m.
- Where: Nationwide Arena, Columbus
- TV/Streaming: Bally Sports Florida; ESPN+
- Radio: WQAM 560-AM; WBZT 1230-AM (Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); SiriusXM
- Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932
- Last season: Florida won 2-1
- All-time regular season series: Florida leads 19-15-10, no ties