The Florida Panthers pulled off an improbable victory against the host Columbus Blue Jackets on Tuesday night thanks in great part to Patric Hornqvist and Sasha Barkov.
Sure, it was a shootout win — which, we all know can go either way — but it was a much deserved one.
The Panthers were the better team in Tuesday’s 4-3 shootout win at Nationwide Arena.
Florida controlled the pace, the flow and did everything against Columbus goalie Joonas Korpisalo but score a lot of goals.
Let’s ask Columbus coach John Tortorella.
“They took it to us,” Tortorella said in his postgame comments.
“They were the better team right from the get go. They were the faster team, they moved the puck better. Everything about their game was better than ours.”
It may seem odd to read that the Panthers dominated knowing they trailed 2-0 in the first period.
But yet they did.
Florida at least got a deserved point when Hornqvist forced OT in the dying seconds. This came after the Jackets iced the puck and Joel Quenneville rolled out six fresh skaters.
Alexander Wennberg won a faceoff with 11.9 seconds left, Aaron Ekblad threw up a hard shot at the net Korpisalo couldn’t handle and Hornqvist hammered the loose puck as if it was a baseball on a tee.
The puck was in the back of the net with less than three seconds left on the Nationwide Arena clock.
“If you do the right things over and over, you’ll get rewarded,’’ Hornqvist said. “Maybe not in this game, but the next. That’s the mindset we have to have.
“It was great to see the puck go in and tie it and then win in overtime. Keep looking forward here, get better every time we come to the rink. We have a good mood in the group. We want to keep everyone happy here.”
The Panthers went from getting nothing out of this game except some pride in the way they played after a seven-day layoff to putting another two points in the standings.
That’s six points for those of you scoring at home.
Hornqvist’s base hit tied the score and Florida killed off a Frank Vatrano penalty in overtime leaving the end result to the shootout.
Some of Florida’s big guns failed to score in the skills competition, but Hornqvist did, his easy glide toward the net and swift shot beating Korpisalo in Round 5 to hand the Panthers the additional point in the standings with the improbable — yet deserved — win.
The talk leading into Tuesday’s game was all about the former Blue Jackets returning to Nationwide Arena but it was also about Florida’s past failures on that ice.
Columbus continued its streak of consecutive home games with at least a point against the Panthers to 15. They have won 13 of those games.
Both of Florida’s wins in Columbus over the past few years have come in overtime.
Tuesday, it was in a shootout.
It never should have gone that far.
Florida was lucky to get a single point but so, too, was Columbus. The Panthers outplayed the Jackets in just about every facet of the game.
The Panthers got two points Tuesday and deserved what they ended up with. Columbus scored early, stuck around and did as well.
“We deserved that win tonight,” Quenneville said. “We did a lot of great things.”
Said Tortorella: “Take the point and run. And learn from it.”
The two play again Thursday night.
Florida had better be ready because we know Columbus will.
Looking back on Tuesday’s game, one can see a Florida team which has some talent and plays some pretty good defensive hockey.
At 3-0, Florida is off to its best start in franchise history which is something to celebrate, I guess.
If a team was going to get off to its best start ever it seems wise to do it in a shortened season and in one where playoff spots will be determined solely within one’s own division.
The Panthers are off to a pretty good start.
They need to keep it up starting Thursday against these same Blue Jackets.
Tuesday’s Key Takeaways
Sasha Barkov was as good as we have seen him, the Florida captain taking control of the game on both ends of the ice.
Barkov is known as a pass-first kind of player. He was firing at will Tuesday.
In the second period, he tied the score at 2 off a nice pass from Carter Verhaeghe.
Barkov ended the night with eight shots on goal (at one point in the second, he was outshooting the entire Columbus team) with 12 shots attempted.
It was a nice night for the team captain.
“I don’t care who shoots on that line and I don’t think they have to make the perfect play,” Quenneville said.
“They are creating odd-man situations with their speed, taking it to the net. … Barky, whether he passes it shoots it, that whole line sees plays and make plays. They expect the puck at all times. The quality they have been getting has been very noticeable.”
Said Barkov: “I had a lot of shots, felt like I had a lot of chances to score more. I hit the post once, missed a pass a couple of times. I could have scored more. But we won the game. That’s how we want to play as a line. We want to put pucks at the net, shoot all the time. That’s what creates the momentum in their zone.”
— Hornqvist has been terrific for the Panthers in these first three games.
The goal he scored in the waning seconds left Tuesday was the difference from the Panthers going back to their Columbus hotel with zero points or the two they ultimately ended up with.
“It’s always fun to score big goals. That’s my job,” Hornqvist said. “I will try to help this team win every time I am on the ice.”
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Hornqvist, for good measure, then scored the two-point shootout goal in the fifth round.
He had been 0-for-6 in the shootout prior to scoring on Korpisalo Tuesday.
Hornqvist had not even attempted one over the past six seasons.
“It was a big win,” Quenneville said. “When you look at the standings and you look at the teams you’re giving (points to) you will be battling with all year. We saw a lot of late, late goals in the past week.
“We definitely deserved it. It’s not how you expect to get it done, but hey, Horny has been good around the net and has brought a real good attitude change as well.”
Hornqvist has fit right in with the Panthers.
“It felt good obviously to score in the shootout,” Hornqvist said. “We have been working on some moves lately. It was good to see the goal go in, but the big thing is, we got two points.”
In his first three games, Hornqvist has four goals — and the shootout one doesn’t even count although it does in the standings.
I wrote the other day that while Hornqvist is 34, his style of game does not age all that badly. He is a guy who gets to the net and usually finds the puck and does good things with it.
In basketball, they say the legs are the first to go. In hockey, good hands (and positioning) can keep you performing at a high level.
“They come in bunches, usually,” Hornqvist said. “You just keep working hard and try to be in the right place at the right time.”
— Goalie Sergei Bobrovsky did not have the best night but stood up when the Panthers really needed him.
It did not look good for Bob early.
Columbus scored two goals in the opening period off its first two shots on goal although both shots deflected off someone in front of the net — either a Florida player (Radko Gudas) or a Columbus one (Alexandre Texier).
The third goal scored by Columbus off a shorthanded drive by Cam Atkinson was a bad one.
But, it’s probably one Atkinson worked on hundreds of time during practice against Bobrovsky when they both played together in CBus.
At the end of the day, Bobrovsky got the win. His numbers don’t look all that great: Three goals off 22 shots on goal.
But he got the win. Florida took two points thanks in great part to Bob making five saves in overtime and stopping four of five shots in the shootout.
— The Panthers scored three goals off eight chances on the power play in their first two games against Chicago but went 0-for-3 on Tuesday.
The power play didn’t look all that special.
But the penalty kill did.
Florida gave up three goals on four chances to the Blackhawks in the opening series yet Columbus went 0-for-6 on Tuesday.
Now, Columbus’ power play has been bad for some time.
The Jackets only have one goal through their first seven games with the man advantage this season.
The Panthers did some good things on the kill Tuesday. In the first period, Owen Tippett got called for a four-minute high stick. The Panthers killed off a big chunk of that at the end of the first and then the rest to start the second.
In overtime, Columbus had a four-on-three when Vatrano tripped up Max Domi.
The Jackets again failed to score and got off only a handful of shots on goal — nothing really all that threatening, either.
The Panthers added a lot of new faces during the offseason and a few of them have been thrown into PK duty. One has to think the penalty kill will get better. It probably won’t get better — or more helpful — than it was Tuesday.
“I thought we did a lot of good things,” Quenneville said.
— Although the Panthers are on the road, the team is not allowed to do a whole lot other than make the short walk from their hotel to the arena — so that means postgame celebrations won’t be in their usual road haunts.
Quenneville said he would try and make the most of it.
“We’re going to go back to the hotel and have a beer,’’ Quenneville said. “And maybe one more.”