Keith Yandle did not get to savor a victory after he played in his 1,000th NHL game so the night he was honored for the milestone will just have to do.
The Panthers celebrated all things Yandle — from players getting special ‘Sooooonk’ t-shirts to wearing ‘Yandle’ 1000 jerseys in warmups — before Saturday’s game with the Blackhawks at BB&T Center.
Yandle did not make it to the scoresheet but he certainly enjoyed this one as the Panthers got two goals from Sasha Barkov as they won their third consecutive game over Chicago with a 4-2 victory.
”Huge, obviously against a great team and to get that win … we got some timely goals,” Yandle said. “Great team win. It definitely means a lot more when you get that win and you’re able to be smiling in the locker room afterward. It put the icing on the cake for the day.”
The Panthers, who have now won five of their past six games, got a huge boost of adrenaline off a big hit from Radko Gudas on Carl Soderberg down 1-0 in the second period.
Florida really got its game going then.
Joel Quenneville moved Anthony Duclair back to his spot on the top line with Barkov and Carter Verhaeghe.
It paid immediate dividends.
Duclair fed Barkov coming through the lane and Barkov followed his own rebound to tie the score at 7:46 of the second.
”It was great to come back, you never like to be out and be injured,” Duclair said. “I am happy to be back with these guys, help get some wins. … Obviously (the line) had been playing since the beginning of the season and we built some chemistry right off the bat there.
“For me, taking this time off, was pretty eye-opening. Just watching the game from a different perspective and getting a read on guys. When it comes to Carter and Barky, we definitely have that instant chemistry and we want to keep that going for sure.”
A few minutes later, Verhaeghe jumped on a big rebound from a MacKenzie Weegar shot and rifled it in to make it 2-1.
With 7:41 left, Frank Vatrano got his 10th of the season as he teed off on a nice feed from Owen Tippett and all of a sudden, the Panthers were up 3-1.
Florida was all over the Blackhawks to open the third with Barkov getting his second at the midway mark off a nice feed from Duclair.
”Duclair had some good speed and I didn’t want to change the lines, but I wanted to get him back in the lineup,” Quenneville said.
“He earned that opportunity on how he was skating, he had good energy and he brought that to the line. They all played a part in all the goals they scored. Good to see them get reunited and have a big night as well. It was good to have him back and I thought his speed was very dangerous.”
Sergei Bobrovsky was back in net for the Panthers — who jumped idle Carolina and are tied with Tampa Bay atop the Central Division — and was fantastic, ending the night with 25 saves.
Florida could have found itself down a couple goals the way the second period was going but Bobrovsky was sharp and kept the Panthers within striking distance allowing for Gudas’ check to get them going.
Instead, it was Bobrovsky’s fifth consecutive win as Florida’s starter. Expect to see him back Monday night against the Hawks.
”It is a process which started in Game 1 and you just build, you go out and your mind becomes more relaxed and you see the game more clearly,” Bobrovsky said.
“You feel more comfortable the more you play. So, I feel great physically and mentally. I appreciate to be part of this team and I am happy to be out there doing my thing. It’s just great to be out there having fun with the guys.”
Also worth noting: Saturday marked Florida’s first win in their ‘retro reverse’ jerseys. The team had been 0-2-1 in them going into Saturday night.
So, they’ll keep wearing them we guess.
Which is good. They look sharp.
GIFTS FOR YANS
Yandle was celebrated before Saturday’s game with a short ceremony in which Barkov skated out the traditional silver stick and presented it to Yandle alongside Aaron Ekblad and Jonathan Huberdeau.
The team also gave Yandle a custom golf cart with the logos of the three teams he has played for (Arizona, the Rangers and Panthers) on it.
Yandle was not only joined on the ice by his Florida teammates, but his wife and two daughters as well.
The Panthers also had a video tribute before all the gifts started coming out.
As far as the jerseys and t-shirts go, Yandle said he was taken aback when he walked into the locker room before the game.
“You have your routine when you come into the rink getting ready for a game,” he said. “I saw the jerseys and then the t-shirts hanging up and Ekblad and Huberdeau were sitting there and I had to turn and walk out. I was emotional.
“It’s the little things that guys do, the trainers, make you feel special. I thank God every day that I am in this league and am able to play this sport, the friendships and everything I have made. To have friends like that, to do things like that for each other, that’s why the best bond in the world is the NHL.”
— Florida Panthers (@FlaPanthers) March 14, 2021
The Panthers officially activated Duclair from injured reserve Saturday afternoon, sliding Riley Stillman to the taxi squad to make space on the roster.
With Duclair and Anton Stralman back in, Ryan Lomberg and Markus Nutivaara were out.
Quenneville spoke with Lomberg following Saturday’s morning skate and let him know he wouldn’t be in the lineup.
For Lomberg, who only played 6:07 Thursday but did score his first NHL goal in starting Florida’s comeback against Columbus, it wasn’t exactly a surprise as Duclair took his spot on the fourth line in practice.
Lomberg scored his goal on his first and last shift of the third period.
“It’s not normal how we do business around here,” Quenneville said. “But it’s a situation where his play was, he had been missing shifts in that game and hadn’t had one in a while and really made good use of it.
“We have to make some tough decisions and we have some guys who can be in and out of the lineup. … It’s part of the challenges of guys pushing each other.”
FIRST PERIOD HIGHLIGHTS
The two teams traded scoring chances in the first, but no one had a better look than Patrick Kane.
With Bobrovsky seemingly out of position on a power play chance, Kane fired from point-blank range but the Florida goalie leapt into position to make an outstanding save and keep the game scoreless.
Chicago ended up outshooting the Panthers 10-6 as it had two power play tries off penalties from Stralman and Duclair.
The Panthers had their fair share of chances, with Verhaeghe, Alex Wennberg and Juho Lammikko all getting some excellent looks. Wennberg had a deflection go off the post.
Bobrovsky was on point in this period, making 10 saves as Chicago had 19 shot attempts to Florida’s 11.
Per NaturalStatTrick.com, the Panthers only got off two shots in the high-danger area, a similar start to what happened in Columbus on Thursday.
SECOND PERIOD HIGHLIGHTS
Things did not look good early.
Not only did Brandon Hagel score off a 2-on-1 with Dominik Kubalik just 28 seconds in, but Mason Marchment took a penalty on the ensuing shift.
Bobrovsky was on his game though, and the score remained 1-0 despite the ice tilting Chicago’s way.
After Verhaeghe had two shots stopped, Gudas flattened Soderberg by the Panthers bench and the ice tilted in Florida’s direction.
“Guds is huge for us,” Verhaeghe said. “He has two of those a game and they always seem to give us life.”
With Duclair back up on the top line, he sent a shot to Barkov who followed up his own rebound and tied the score at 7:46.
The Panthers, who were outshot 6-0 to start the period had gotten off the past four and were starting to get something cooking.
Just 90 seconds later, Verhaghe saw a fat rebound come off a Weegar shot and pounced, going bar-high to make it 2-1.
At 12:19, the Panthers took a 3-1 lead when Tippett saw Vatrano crashing the net from behind the cage and zipped up a pass that Vatrano one-timed into the net.
Bobrovsky didn’t have much to do during Florida’s onslaught in the middle of the period, but he kept it at 3-1 with a number of high-end saves including two on Mattias Janmark after he charged out of the penalty box and had a breakaway attempt.
”I was enjoying how they were playing offensively,” Bobrovsky said.
“We have great skill guys up front and it is fun to watch how they create the scoring chances and how they played there. We have great chemistry, we really help each other; the forwards help the D, the D helps the goalie and the goalie helps the rest of the team. Again, it is so much fun to be a part of this. Every night, different guys step up and deliver.”
Florida changed the possession metric around as the second period worked its way through and took five high-danger shots in the second with three turning into goals.
The Panthers ended up outshooting Chicago 15-8 in the third although the shot attempts remained the same per the NHL.
But, that number looks suspiciously low as Verhaeghe — who was around the net the entire game and took one shot after another — was only credited with two shots on goal and one miss.
THIRD PERIOD HIGHLIGHTS
Florida came out with some serious jump to kick off the third, getting a number of A-1 chances and outshooting Chicago 7-1 in the opening minutes.
By the time Noel Acciari picked off a puck on a penalty kill, the Panthers were outshooting Chicago 12-4 in the first seven-plus minutes of the period.
The Panthers kept the pressure on and Barkov made it 4-1 with his second goal (and third point) of the night.
With 1:32 left, Adam Boqvist made it 4-2 with a long shot from the top of the slot.
”We had an excellent period outside of the goal we gave up,” Quenneville said. “We did everything right in the third as far as playing the right way with that score. We even added to the lead. It was one of those period where all the lines were doing the right things and obviously scoring the fourth helps.
”It was one of those periods where, when you play right, it is fun. I commend the guys for doing a lot of the little things that added up.”
GEORGE’S THREE STARS OF THE NIGHT
1. Sasha Barkov, Florida
2. Anthony Duclair, Florida
3. Sergei Bobrovsky, Florida
UP NEXT: BLACKHAWKS AT PANTHERS
When: Monday, 7
Where: BB&T Center, Sunrise
Tickets: AVAILABLE HERE