Florida Panthers head coach Joel Quenneville was returning to Chicago for the first time to take on his former side before the All-Star break.
The game got off to a fast start for both sides, resulting in tight-checking hockey at both ends of the ice. The Chicago Blackhawks, who are hanging around a wild-card spot, understand the importance of every game, given their hot recent form.
The Florida Panthers, on the other hand, matched Chicago’s intensity early on and even brought the play to their end for a period of time. They tested Robin Lehner early, as did Chicago with Sergei Bobrovsky, but both netminders stood tall and prevailed to keep this a scoreless event.
Around the halfway mark of the first, the Blackhawks presented coach Joel Quenneville with a commemoration video to celebrate and thank him for his time spent with the Blackhawks organization. Quenneville was touched, given a round of applause after the video concluded, even personally thanking the fans with a wave up high to his former side.
After the applause and cheers, the game continued, with the Panthers heading to the game’s first power play after Adam Boqvist flipped the puck out of play. The Cats could hardly set up in the Blackhawks zone, failing to register a single shot on goal.
The period concluded with both teams walking down to the locker room scoreless after twenty minutes of play in a tight outing.
In the second, the Blackhawks came out with force, pinning the Panthers in their end for an extended period of time. Florida’s defense managed to hold up, leading to eventual breaks the other way.
The Panthers ended up striking first courtesy of Evgenii Dadonov. As Aleksander Barkov circled around the net and centered a pass out in front which hit Lehner’s skate, Dadonov poked the loose puck home to give the Panthers the first lead of the game.
With an opener provided by Dadonov, the Panthers were suddenly taking control of the game, regaining the momentum the Hawks had to start the second period. In the slot, off a feed from Dominic Toninato, Frank Vatrano let a quick shot off – which caught Lehner by surprise – to double Florida’s lead.
Think the Panthers were done? Think again! After Aaron Ekblad returned exited the penalty box – after serving a penalty – he picked up a loose puck near the Blackhawks’ blue line, turning and pulling off a sudden move to spring Vatrano on a quick break. Vatrano took the pass and wired his second of the night to give Florida a commanding three-goal lead.
The Blackhawks, who were completely stunned by the three goals they had given up, found some life after Kirby Dach backhanded a shot over the shoulder of Bobrovsky to trim the Panthers’ lead down to two.
Dach’s goal didn’t seem to affect the Cats as they continued to press after conceding, creating multiple chances to try and regain their three-goal advantage. They came close after Jonathan Huberdeau struck the iron with a quick wrist-shot, but unfortunately, there was just no luck.
The Panthers were able to create some luck on the power play after Alex DeBrincat was summoned to the box for a trip on Barkov. The Cats wasted no time getting started on the man advantage, cashing in from who else? Frankie V.
As Huberdeau drew a couple of Blackhawk players to his side, he quickly fed the puck over to Mike Hoffman, who threaded a pass beautifully over to Vatrano – who was left tapping it home to record his second career NHL hat trick.
While the Panthers had a comfy lead approaching the final frame, the Blackhawks ensured that they weren’t going down without a proper fight.
It didn’t take long for them to return to special teams as Keith Yandle held Drake Caggiula in transition, signaling a penalty. The Hawks, this time, cashed-in early thanks to the man who drew the call.
The Panthers were faced with more adversity and obstacles as Noel Acciari was caught with a trip, handing the Blackhawks yet another power-play opportunity. This time, however, the Panthers’ PK unit was solid, doing everything in their power to kill it off successfully.
With under three minutes to play, Patrick Kane brought the Hawks within one after beating Bobrovsky short-side to bring new life to the building. His goal wasn’t enough as the Panthers would hang on to win by a score of 4-3 in Coach Q’s return to the Wind City.
Overall, the Panthers played well and didn’t buckle when obstacles were placed in their way. Their victory over Chicago puts them on a six-game win streak heading into the All-Star break, which adds to their cushion in the standings over Toronto by four points.
Your Florida Panthers are now rewarded with a nice, long break as they sit back and recharge their batteries until they square-off on Saturday, February. 2 against the Montreal Canadiens.