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Minus Two Key Players, Florida Panthers Gut Out Win in Vegas

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Matthew Tkachuk, center, celebrates after scoring what would be the game-winning goal on the power play against the Vegas Golden Knights in the second period on Thursday night in Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

The Florida Panthers found themselves in the most significant gut-check moments against the team that knocked them out of the Stanley Cup Final last season.

With Sasha Barkov and Evan Rodrigues injured, and out of the game, Florida faced 2:01 of 5-on-3 time after taking three straight penalties to start the third period.

The shorthanded Panthers got out of it and defeated the Vegas Golden Knights 4-1 to extend their win streak to six.

“It was one of my favorite games of the year,” coach Paul Maurice said.

“They came out hot, and we were behind it, so first we have to right the ship; the power play goal was really important; then you lose two important pieces of your lineup — two-thirds of your top line — and you get the huge kills.

“Barkov is a big part of our penalty kill, so guys stepped up there, and between Sergei Bobrovsky, some shot blocks and a lot of heavy lifting by those killers, 5-on-3s are almost lay-ups in this league now, and to get two them done [was huge.]”

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Mere minutes after Florida had its back against the wall, Matthew Tkachuk willed them out of it.

A game removed from breaking a nine-game goal drought, Tkachuk deflected home a Brandon Montour shot on the power play to put the Panthers ahead 6:15 into the second.

Not only was it his second goal in as many games, but it was his seventh point since the win streak started on Dec. 23 against these Golden Knights.

He added another assist on the night to bump that total to eight points in his past six games.

Carter Verhaeghe added a goal off of a Gus Forsling rebound with 1:22 to go in the second to send the Panthers to the dressing room up 2.

Tkachuk had his hands in the air before the puck even went in.

Verhaeghe has been that hot, having scored five goals in his past six games and notching his 20th of the year with that one.

“He is playing great right now, and he’s got a nose for the net,” Tkachuk said.

“I really enjoy playing with him and what I think is also underrated is his passing ability. I love playing on the opposite wing as him, we seem to find each other a lot, and hopefully our chemistry over the past year can continue to build.”

Sam Reinhart extended the lead to 3 with another power-play goal 5:23 into the third to put the game away.

Florida finished the game 3-for-6 on the power play and a perfect 6-for-6 on the penalty kill.

Both special teams rank third in the league since the Panthers started their winning streak on Dec. 23.

Bobrovsky stopped 26 of 27 and is 5-0 with a .934/1.80 since the streak began.

”We just wanted to do it for the guy next to us,” Tkachuk said.

“We regrouped after the first period, had a really good second period and when we were told [Barkov and Rodrigues] weren’t coming back, we regrouped again, and I thought we came out and played a really good third as well.

“It’s just the mindset of our team: Playing as hard as you can for the guy next to you. Especially down two forwards, it was a big performance from all 10 of us that were able to pull through.”

ON DECK

FLORIDA PANTHERS @ COLORADO AVALANCHE

  • When: Saturday, 4 p.m.
  • Where: Ball Arena, Denver
  • 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, NHL App
  • Last Season: Split 1-1
  • This Season — At Colorado: Saturday. At Florida: Feb. 10.
  • All-time Regular Season Series: Colorado leads 27-12-5, 3 ties
  • Postseason Series: Colorado d. Florida 4-0, 1996 Stanley Cup Final
  • Up Next for the Panthers: Tuesday at St. Louis, 8 p.m.

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