The Florida Panthers closed out their home stand on the highest of notes, putting up five goals in the second, seven on the game for an impressive 7-4 win over the Dallas Stars.
Dallas, who had won five of their last seven games heading into this one, seemed slightly tired for a majority of this game. To their credit, they were coming off a back-to-back, in which it took them overtime to not just outlast, but to come from behind, against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The Florida Panthers, however, had a lengthy four days worth of rest. The best thing about that wasn’t just that they had the days of rest, but they executed it.
For most of this game, Florida seemed hungrier, faster, and sharper, and it showed on the scoreboard a little past midway through the second period, when the Cats led Dallas 7-1.
The first period was easily the most competitive between the two sides, and even still, the Panthers were better by quite a bit. The Panthers out-shot, out-hit, and out-scored Dallas, setting the tempo that they wanted to win this game. Despite that, there was some luck that was involved with that first period.
Barely after four minutes of action, Dallas went to the penalty box with Jason Dickinson slashing Frank Vatrano Dallas’ defensive zone. Though Vatrano mustered just 1 assist and two shots on goal in almost 17:30, he was a pain in Dallas’ sides with his speed and sharp turns quickly tiring out the Stars’ defense.
Florida would take advantage of the power play chance, something very uncommon on this home stand, to take the lead. Evgenii Dadonov‘s shot deflected through the slot, with Aleksander Barkov doing an excellent job to back down Miro Heiskanen to allow Jonathan Huberdeau to latch onto the puck and score.
Huberdeau, coming off an incredible four-assist game versus Ottawa on Monday, was a big reason for Florida winning tonight, and continued to make a push towards being an all-star for the rest of the night.
The Panthers would then fan on multiple quality chances leading to Dallas’ one and only equalizing goal. Just after Anton Stralman, Mark Pysyk, and Frank Vatrano had missed key chances to double Florida’s advantage, Dallas forced the Panthers into a mistake, with Corey Perry finding Denis Gurianov for his seventh of the season, and the Stars were level at one.
Though the deadlock was frustrating, it would only last for 1:38 of game time. Right off an offensive zone faceoff, Barkov won the puck to Vatrano, who fed the point to Anton Stralman. Stralman was given way too much time to shoot, and his slap shot deflected off the skate of Dallas’ Roope Hintz for what would’ve been an own-goal.
Of course, the credit went to Stralman, and the Panthers would maintain a 2-1 lead going into the first intermission. The goal was Stralman’s third as a Panther, all three coming at home against Central Division teams, with his first two coming on November 30th against the Nashville Predators.
When Joel Quenneville switched up the lines following Florida’s 4-2 loss to Boston, a lot of people, myself included, questioned the new second line. Jonathan Huberdeau had been the team’s most threatening forward, so it made little sense to dock him down a line. Vincent Trocheck had really struggled for form, with a lot agreeing he wasn’t second-line material. Finally, Noel Acciari, who had five goals in 29 games all season and had never played above the fourth line in Boston, seemingly a very strange decision.
This line took the second period by storm.
Just one 1:21 into the second, another scrappy goal, but this time, for someone in desperate need for a goal. Vincent Trocheck, who had gone 14 games scoreless, finally got one on the board, beating Ben Bishop, who was well out of his crease to make it 3-1. Trocheck’s fifth goal on the year should hopefully give him some must-needed confidence going into a stretch of games where the team needs it.
Next, 1:31 later, the Panthers made it 4-1. That fourth line of Pysyk, Dominic Toninato, and Colton Sceviour made amends for fluffing multiple chances in the first to stretch the lead to three. Mike Matheson‘s stretch pass found Toninato, who played Sceviour in, and with a two-on-one, the ex-Star caught Bishop napping, firing past his near side.
After roughly a five minute break, the second line would score two goals in a span of 32 seconds, both through none other than Noel Acciari. Acciari, who completed his first ever multigoal NHL game Monday would do it yet again in the second period.
Both goals were fantastic, with the combination of Trocheck to Acciari blowing Dallas out of the water. This made for Trocheck’s first three-point night of the season, as well as his first multi-assist game since October 14th.
With the question of whether Acciari could do the impossible again was answered roughly four minutes later. After Florida took a penalty, Acciari had a breakaway chance shorthanded, but was hooked, resulting in a penalty shot for the former Bruin.
In such a record-breaking moment, a goal that would break a Panthers record for quickest hat trick since 2011, first consecutive hat-trick games since 2001, and first shorthanded penalty shot goal since the 1960s, the forward had only one thought in his mind.
“Just don’t fall.” Acciari told Fox Sports Florida’s Katie Gaus at the conclusion of the second. Acciari didn’t fall, beating backup Anton Khudobin five-hole for his second career hat-trick.
This also made for Acciari’s 11th goal of the season, a new career-high. To put it in perspective, his previour career-high was 10 goals in 60 games, he now has 11 in 31 for the Panthers.
The win meant Florida closed out their longest stretch of home games this season with an average 5-4-0 record. They seemed to hit their lowest of lows and highest of highs on this stretch, at least when it came to scoring, being held to four goals in three games from games 5-7, but scoring 13 goals in the last two games.
The Florida Panthers will be back in action tomorrow night from Carolina, a place that has been seemingly impossible for the Panthers to win at. Opening face-off is scheduled for 7:00 P.M.