Oct 11, 2013; Sunrise, FL, USA; Florida Panthers defenseman Mike Weaver (43) checks Pittsburgh Penguins right wing Pascal Dupuis (9) into the boards in the third period at BB&T Center. Robert Mayer USA TODAY Sports

Florida Panthers Sink Penguins In Home Opener

Oct 11, 2013; Sunrise, FL, USA; Florida Panthers goalie Jacob Markstrom (25) makes a save against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the third period at BB&T Center. USA TODAY Sports

On a night when the franchise was honoring their 20th anniversary, the Florida Panthers punctuated the celebration with a 6-3 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Brad Boyes had two goals for the Panthers, his third and fourth of the season. He continued to be the Panthers hottest player and he now has four goals in his last three games. Kris Versteeg, Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau and Tomas Fleischmann rounded out the scoring with a goal a-piece.

Twenty years ago, the Panthers took on the Penguins in their inaugural home opener at Miami Arena. The Penguins won that game 2-1 but things were different this time around. On a night dubbed “Throwback Night,” against an undefeated Penguins team, the Panthers never trailed.

The teams traded goals in the first period and went into the intermission tied 2-2. Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov scored power play goals 1:06 apart in the second period to open a 4-2 Panther lead. Pascal Dupuis scored off a nice Sidney Crosby drop pass to bring the Penguins within one but that was as close as the Penguins would get. Tomas Fleischmann scored his first of the year 6:27 into the third to put the Panthers up 5-3. Flash collected his own rebound in the slot and fired it past Jeff Zatkoff, the Penguins rookie goaltender making his NHL debut. Brad Boyes put things away for good with his second goal of the game at 19:26 into the third period.

Zatkoff was shaky in his first ever NHL game allowing six goals on 30 shots. In net for the Panthers, Jacob Markstrom bounced back from getting pulled in last Thursday night’s game at Tampa to stop 36 of 39 shots faced.

The win snapped a three game losing skid bringing the Panthers’ record to 2-3-0. It was the Panther fourth straight victory in home-openers. The Penguins suffered their first loss of the season and are now 3-1-0.

Florida will be back on home ice on Sunday to take on the LA Kings in a 3 p.m. matinee.

This and That

  • I cannot overstate how important this win is for the Panthers. Coming off three losses to end their season opening road trip, the Panthers looked to be in trouble against the Pittsburgh Penguins. By emphatically beating one of the league’s best teams, Florida proved that those seven goal blowouts (7-0, 7-2 against the Blues and Lightning respectively) are not indicative of the team this year. Not only did the Panthers get the win tonight but they did not let the Penguins control the flow of the game. The Pens had an edge in shots (39-30) but overall it was an evenly played game. Florida endured stretches of pressure but, unlike in Tampa and St. Louis, the Cats were able to apply some pressure of their own and that proved to be the difference between a 6-3 win and another loss.
  • The Florida Panthers top-six forwards dominated the scoring in the game tallying 14 of the 15 Panther points. The trio of Fleischmann-Barkov-Boyes combined for ten points. Fleischmann tallied a goal (1) and three assists (3,4,5), Barkov had a goal (2) and two assists (2,3) and Boyes finished with two goals (3,4) and an assist (1). The Huberdeau-Gomez-Versteeg line chipped in as well. Jonathan Huberdeau scored his second goal of the season, Gomez added an assist (2) and Versteeg tallied a goal (1) and an assist (2) as well. If the Panthers top-six forwards can continue to stuff the box score like they did against the Penguins then Florida’s offense will be a-okay.
  • We always harp on the importance of special teams and last night they proved to be the difference in the game. The Panthers struggling power play showed signs of life scoring on two of their four power plays. On the other end of the ice, Florida killed all three of the Pens man-advantages, no small feat when you are facing the likes of Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby.
  • With Aleksander Barkov, 18, and Jonathan Huberdeau, 20, the future is bright in South Florida. Barkov now has five points (2-3-5) in five games this season which is absolutely stunning for an 18-year-old playing in his first ever NHL games. Jonathan Huberdeau has three points (2-1-3) so far including two goals in the last two games.
  • Defenseman Matt Gilroy made his Panther debut playing 16:19. Ryan Whitney was  the healthy scratch. The Panthers also sent Joey Crabb to the minors, no one has filled his roster spot yet but it could be that either Ed Jovanovski or Sean Bergenheim are close to returning from injury.

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