The Florida Panthers and Carolina Hurricanes resumed a rivalry on Wednesday, playing each other for the first time as part of the same division since the Southeast was dissolved way back in 2013.
Fun times, those days in the Southeast Division.
The Panthers struggled to win games at Carolina then, but really, only had Jonathan Huberdeau for one of those years.
Round 1 of what will be an eight-game season series harkening back to those lopsided divisional schedules of yore went to the visiting Panthers as Huberdeau scored twice including in OT as the Panthers won 4-3 at PNC Arena (formerly the RBC Center) in Raleigh.
“This is one of those games we’re going to remember knowing it’s a tough building to win in against a team that’s playing well,” Joel Quenneville said.
“It is tough to come into this building and get two.”
The Hurricanes are now 35-11-3 with two ties against the Panthers at PNC Arena, their most amount of victories against one team.
But, by winning Wednesday, the Panthers took over first place in the temporary, this-season-only Central Division from the Tampa Bay Lightning.
By virtue of winning in Detroit, Chicago pulled into a tie with the Panthers with 20 points although the Blackhawks played four more games.
The Panthers found themselves down 2-0 after a quick spurt of goals from Carolina to close the first period.
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Carolina scored twice within a span of 22 seconds to take a lead into the first break.
Florida battled back and cut its deficit in half when Huberdeau charged in and went top shelf on a power play chance at 10:52 of the second.
The Panthers had numerous chances to tie the score as the second went along but went into the third still trailing and on the penalty kill after Carter Verhaeghe was called for goalie interference.
Huberdeau helped tie the score in the second with as pretty a pass as one will ever see, threading the needle with a blind, backhanded spin-o-rama feed to find Alex Wennberg crashing the net.
”It had to be at the right moment,’’ Huberdeau said. “I saw Wenny coming in and I thought, well, I had done the spin-o-rama before and it just hit his tape. I was fortunate.”
The pass was right where it needed to be at the time it needed to be.
”He had an outstanding game,” Quenneville said, “did a lot of good things; the power play goal, the finish goal. But the pass was the highlight for me.
”I said to him, ‘wow, it has been a long time since I have seen anything like that.’ He asked me ‘what about (Patrick) Kane?’ It has been a while since I had seen anything that special. It was pretty good.”
With 7:56 left, the Panthers took their first lead of the night when Juho Lammikko put a shot on net that trickled past goalie Alex Nedeljkovic for his first NHL goal in what is now his second season.
Florida was facing Vincent Trocheck, whose No. 21 is now worn by Wennberg, for the first time since it traded him to Carolina last February.
He made it a 3-3 game when he got to the right of goalie Chris Driedger on a power play chance and deflected a shot from Andrei Svechnikov.
On a second period penalty kill, Trocheck boosted a puck Keith Yandle couldn’t handle and drove in on goalie Chris Driedger who had to make a nice save.
Florida won it in overtime as Huberdeau broke loose on a breakaway and stuffed it in, setting off a nice celebration by a Panthers team which completed their first quarter of the season in first place.
”He had,’’ Quenneville said of Huberdeau, “a special night. A couple of highlight films.’’
What is looks like when an #NHL All-Star is coming at you on a breakaway! ⭐
— FOX Sports Florida & Sun (@FOXSportsFL) February 18, 2021
“We were down 2-0 and it was a big response by us,” Huberdeau said.
“After the first period, we came back to the room and didn’t panic. We got back to our structure and some good goals got us back, Driedger was good in the net. It is a big team win, huge two points for us.”
Unlike Trocheck, the Panthers did not face former goalie James Reimer in net as Carolina went with Nedeljkovic, who was a teammate with the Charlotte Checkers of Panthers Eetu Luostarinen (who came to Florida in the Trocheck trade) and Gustav Forsling.
Nedeljkovic ended the game with 33 saves.
Driedger saw a lot of action in this one, ending with 32 saves.
The Panthers have now won three of their past four against the top teams in the division with two of those wins coming against the Lightning.
Quenneville said Tuesday the Panthers probably should have been happy with getting two wins out of those four but he hoped his team aimed higher.
Appears they did just that.
”We’re feeling good right now, it’s a lot more fun when you win obviously,” Huberdeau said.
“That’s what we’re doing. We’re playing as a team, everyone is supporting each other and that makes it fun. We just have to keep going, we have two more games in Detroit and we want to end the road trip the right way.”
Carolina, by the way, won 44 of 81 meetings between the two back in the old Southeast days with nine ties.
The Hurricanes won the division three times to Florida’s one (2011-12).
Whatever happened to the Atlanta Thrashers?
First period highlights
Carolina came out flying and the Panthers looked a little flatfooted but things were even — from shots to scoring chances — until midway in the period.
Late in the first, the Hurricanes opened the scoring with 1:32 left when Jordan Staal broke between Aaron Ekblad and MacKenzie Weegar and roofed a shot over Driedger.
Just 22 seconds later, Sebastian Aho worked into the slot, stuck out his stick and tipped a point shot from Brett Pesce and banked it in off the post for a 2-0 lead.
Carolina ended up outshooting Florida 13-10 in the first but doubled up the Panthers on shot attempts at 28-14.
Both teams had one power play chance with Florida getting off three of its shots while with the advantage; Carolina got one on its chance.
Second period highlights
The Panthers continued to trail by two until they got their second power play chance of the game.
With 9:08 left in the period, Huberdeau fired a beautiful shot past Nedeljkovic to pull Florida within a goal.
Incredible precision from @JonnyHuby11! 📡
— FOX Sports Panthers (@FOXPanthers) February 17, 2021
With 6:52 left, the Panthers got a second power play opportunity of the period but it was Carolina and Trocheck with the best scoring chance as he picked off a loose puck left by Yandle and charged in on Driedger.
Florida struggled to set up as Yandle ended up turning over the puck two more times, but Ekblad had one of his two prime scoring chances in the period stopped when his shot ended up in Nedeljkovic’s glove.
The Panthers made one last dash to tie the score at the end of the period, but with Nedeljkovic out of the net, Verhaeghe made contact and was called for goalie interference at the 20 minute mark.
Third period highlights
Florida killed off the penalty as Carolina took three shots with Anthony Duclair getting a quick shot soon after the kill ended.
Florida was able to tie it up when Huberdeau swept into the right circle, spun around and threw a backhanded pass through Brett Pesce to a streaking Wennberg to make it 2-2.
Stop what you're doing and watch this pass from Huberdeau. 🙀 pic.twitter.com/psP925ljtx
— Jameson Olive (@JamesonCoop) February 18, 2021
Midway through the period, the Panthers had a prime chance to take their first lead when Luostarinen and Frank Vatrano broke loose on a 2-on-1.
Vatrano, who had scored in his previous three games against the Lightning, shot high.
Florida would eventually take a 3-2 lead when Lammikko scored at 12:06 of the period.
FIRST #NHL GOAL: 🚨
Juho Lammikko nets the go-ahead goal and screams with joy! 😱
— FOX Sports Panthers (@FOXPanthers) February 18, 2021
With Weegar in the box for a holding-the-stick penalty, the Hurricanes made quick work of a power play, tying the score on Trocheck’s deflection.
Carolina came close to breaking the deadlocked score with just under three minutes remaining but Nino Niederreiter’s shot was stopped in the paint by Driedger.
”Huge save,’’ Quenneville said. “Give Driedge some credit on that one for sticking with it. Finding a way to win was very positive.”
Up Next: Florida Panthers at Detroit Red Wings
When: Friday, 7 p.m.; Saturday, 5 p.m.