The Florida Panthers knew they could claim a spot in the playoffs before taking the ice Saturday night against the host Columbus Blue Jackets.
With the Pittsburgh Penguins losing to the visiting Bruins on Saturday afternoon, the final wild card spot was up for grabs — perhaps temporarily — and Florida took it.
Thanks in great part to the scoring prowess of Carter Verhaeghe.
By virtue of Florida’s 7-0 win on Saturday night over the depleted Blue Jackets, the Panthers now currently hold the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
Pittsburgh will use its game-in-hand today when it plays host to the Flyers on Sunday evening. Florida now leads the Penguins by a point for that final spot.
The Panthers did not appear to break much of a sweat on Saturday night against a Columbus team stocked with a lot of AHL players due to numerous injuries to its regulars.
Florida went into the first break up 2-0. Sam Reinhart opened the scoring on a power play chance with Verhaeghe scoring his first of four to close the first.
Verhaeghe opened the second with his second 18 seconds in, completing the natural hat trick and making it 4-0 with a wicked wrist shot at 6:34.
He got his 40th goal of the season at 11:18 of the third period to give the Panthers a 6-0 lead.
Verhaeghe is now the highest scoring Panther not named Pavel Bure in franchise history as he joins the ‘Russian Rocket’ as the only Florida players to ever hit the 40-goal mark.
Bure had 58 in 1999-2000 and followed that with 59 the next season.
Aside from scoring — Nick Cousins and Eric Staal also got in on the act — Alex Lyon made his third consecutive start, and got his third consecutive win, as he made 21 saves for his first NHL shutout.
Yes, this was Florida’s third consecutive win — the third winning streak of the season with all of them coming in the last two months.
Florida goes for its first four-game winning streak when it returns home to play the Buffalo Sabres, which is back in this playoff race, on Tuesday night.
The Panthers have five games remaining with four of them at home.
Florida ended up taking 49 shots on goal Saturday night and had 87 shot attempts.
The Blue Jackets ended with 44 shot attempts.
GOALS OF THE GAME
- Panthers 1, Blue Jackets 0 (12:03, 1st): Sam Reinhart gets his 29th of the season by whacking at a power play feed from Matthew Tkachuk in the low slot.
- Panthers 2, Blue Jackets 0 (17:29, 1st): Carter Verhaeghe one-times a pass from Gus Forsling as he slides through the slot for his 37th goal of the season.
- Panthers 3, Blue Jackets 0 (0:18, 2nd): Verhaeghe jumps on a rebound from Aaron Ekblad and nets No. 38.
- Panthers 4, Blue Jackets 0 (6:34, 2nd): Make that 39 for Verhaeghe as he rips a wrister from the left circle for the natural hat trick.
- Panthers 5, Blue Jackets 0 (8:34, 3rd): Nick Cousins gets one from the left circle.
- Panthers 6, Blue Jackets 0 (11:18, 3rd): Have yourself a night Carter Verhaeghe.
- Panthers 7, Blue Jackets 0 (14:12, 3rd): With Michael Hutchinson down on the ice, Eric Staal pops one into the empty net.
GR’S 3 STARS OF THE GAME
1. Carter Verhaeghe (4 goals), Florida
2. Sam Reinhart (goal, 2 assists), Florida
3. Alex Lyon (21 saves, 1st NHL Shutout), Florida
PANTHERS ON DECK
BUFFALO SABRES AT FLORIDA PANTHERS
- When: Tuesday, 7 p.m.
- Where: FLA Live Arena, Sunrise
- TV/Streaming: Bally Sports Florida; ESPN+
- Radio: WPOW 96.5-FM2; WBZT 1230-AM (Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); SiriusXM
- Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932
- Season Series (Florida leads 2-1): Panthers 4, Sabres 3 (Oct. 15); Panthers 4, Sabres 1 (Jan. 16); Sabres 3, Panthers 1 (Feb. 24)
- Last season: Florida won 3-0
- All-time regular season series: Florida leads 53-45-8, 4 ties
- Up Next for the Panthers: Ottawa Senators at Florida, Thursday, 7 p.m.