Banged-up Florida Panthers aim to keep up winning ways vs. Blue Jackets

By Field Level Media
Mar 30, 2021; Sunrise, Florida, USA; Florida Panthers center Carter Verhaeghe (23) takes position on the ice during the second period against the Detroit Red Wings at BB&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

In a trying span of nine days, the injuries have piled up for the Florida Panthers — but so have the wins.

Florida managed to dodge injury on Thursday night — barely — as they used Alex Wennberg’s goal 1:25 into overtime to earn a hard-fought 3-2 comeback victory over visiting Detroit to finish the season 6-2-0 against the Red Wings.

The Panthers will try to extend their winning streak to five games Saturday night when they host the Columbus Blue Jackets in their first meeting in Sunrise, Fla., this season.

Florida is 4-2-0 without top center and captain Aleksander Barkov, who was injured in warmups on March 23 in Chicago. Top-six right winger Patric Hornqvist was hurt the next contest and is also out.

Additionally, No. 1 defenseman Aaron Ekblad, in the middle of a career-best season, fractured his left leg in Dallas on Sunday. Yet, Florida won both games in Texas, then they took care of Detroit twice this week.

On Thursday, left winger Jonathan Huberdeau was hurt, left the ice on his own and headed straight to the dressing room in the second period after a hit to the back of his left leg by Detroit’s Troy Stecher.

However, Huberdeau returned, and the Panthers tied it 2-2 on Frank Vatrano’s power-play blast at 10:36 before Wennberg roofed the game-winning tally off an assist from Vatrano in the three-on-three overtime session.

“It shows a lot of character,” said Wennberg, who finished the season series against Detroit with four goals in eight games. “Obviously, it’s not always going to be pretty or always go our way, but we somehow keep working and doing our part, and we get rewarded with two points.”

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Florida coach Joel Quenneville said Barkov and Hornqvist may be ready to return Saturday against Columbus.

Meanwhile, Carter Verhaeghe has picked up the offense by giving the Panthers a boost with eight points (five goals, three assists) in the last four games.

Leading 2-1 Thursday in the third period, the Blue Jackets appeared to be on their way to sweeping two games from the Lightning in Tampa, but rookie Ross Colton tied the match at 2 and Brayden Point tallied his second goal of the game on a fluky bounce off David Savard’s stick with 4:06 left in regulation for the game-winning marker on goalie Elvis Merzlikins.

“We played a really good hockey game,” Columbus coach John Tortorella said. “It’s frustrating we don’t come away with anything. … Just to get nothing tonight, it’s a tough one to eat.”

With Patrik Laine netting just one goal in his last 17 games, Tortorella put the left winger on a line with center Max Domi (two assists on Thursday) and right winger Eric Robinson (one goal, one assist) and found immediate success.

“I’m trying to get Patty going. Forget about goals and assists, I thought it was the best game he’s played since we traded for him,” Tortorella said. “I thought he was strong on the puck and moving his legs. He looked confident.

“Robby added to that line as far as the forechecking and the speed on the other wing. And Max’s game has been coming. I’m going to give (Max) a chance there because we’re flailing away.”

Columbus slipped to 1-4-1 in its last six contests overall and is 2-1-1 against the Lightning.

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–Field Level Media