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Aleksander Barkov’s hat trick, 5 points propel Panthers past Habs

Dec 29, 2022; Sunrise, Florida, USA; Florida Panthers left wing Ryan Lomberg (94) and Montreal Canadiens center Kirby Dach (77) battle for a loose puck in front of Montreal Canadiens goaltender Sam Montembeault (35) during the second period period at FLA Live Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Aleksander Barkov scored a first-period hat trick and also had two assists and Matthew Tkachuk added two goals and two assists as the Florida Panthers cruised to a 7-2 victory over the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday in Sunrise, Fla.

Carter Verhaeghe had a goal and an assist, Eetu Luostarinen scored a goal and Brandon Montour added a pair of assists for Florida, which snapped a three-game losing streak while producing a season-high goal total.

Barkov, who missed the previous three games with a knee injury, set franchise records for the fastest hat trick to start a game (15:22) and also most career power-play goals (67), breaking a tie with Scott Mellanby for the latter mark. His five-point goal tied a career high.

Sergei Bobrovsky made 25 saves for the Panthers, who improved to 5-1-0 in their past six games against Montreal.

Arber Xhekaj had a goal and an assist and Josh Anderson also scored a goal for Montreal, which took its fourth straight loss (0-3-1). Sam Montembeault finished with 34 saves.

Florida took a 1-0 lead at the 2:37 mark of the first period when Gustav Forsling’s shot off the left point caromed off Barkov’s leg past Montembeault. Barkov then made it 2-0 with a power-play goal when he ripped a shot from the left circle into the top left corner at 11:50 of the first.

Montreal cut it to 2-1 at 14:14 of the first on a power-play goal by Xhekaj, who slapped a shot from the left point through traffic for his fifth of the season.

Barkov answered just 1:08 later to complete his hat trick, picking up a loose puck in front of the net and then roofing a backhand shot into the top right corner for his ninth of the season.

The Canadiens closed within 3-2 with 47 seconds left in the period on a power-play goal by Anderson, who flicked in a backhand rebound of a Mike Hoffman one-timer.

The Panthers extended the lead to 4-2 with another power-play goal in the second period, when Tkachuk redirected a Montour point shot at 6:22.

Verhaeghe made it 5-2 at the 4:14 mark of the third period when he finished an odd-man rush with Barkov and fired a wrist shot from the left wing past Montembeault’s blocker side for his 18th goal of the season.

The Panthers then blew the game open when Tkachuk muscled in a rebound on the power play for his 17th goal of the season at 7:24. Luostarinen followed 2:07 later with his ninth goal of the season when he put in a wrist shot at the end of a two-on-one with Sam Bennett.

–Field Level Media