"It's an awesome feeling," Acciari said. "It's part of being a Panther."
Heading to South Florida on a three-year contract this summer, Acciari had spent the majority of his first season with the Panthers in a bottom-six role up until tonight's game. Sure, he'd netted a few big goals, but for the most part he was known for throwing huge hits and making key blocks.
So, after finding out he'd be playing alongside Jonathan Huberdeau and Vincent Trocheck on the team's second line against the Senators, one thought immediately raced through his mind.
"Don't mess up," he laughed.
Well, he certainly did far more than just blend in.
After scoring the lone goal of the first period to give the Panthers a 1-0 lead heading into the first intermission, Acciari doubled that mark to 2-0 just 1:18 into the second when he took a stunning feed from Jonathan Huberdeau and one-timed the puck past Anders Nilsson into the open net.
Nilsson finished with 25 saves on 31 shots.
"Those guys are very skilled guys," Acciari said of his new linemates. "It's fun to play with them. Just get to the net and good things happen. Those guys found me in the right spots. Overall, I think it was a good team game, a full 60 minutes. We've just got to kind of build off of that."
Less than minute after Acciari's goal, Artem Anisimov got the Senators on the board when he hammered home a quick feed from in close past Sergei Bobrovsky to make it 2-1 at 2:05.
But after that, the Panthers took over the game and never looked back.
Following a power-play goal from Aleksander Barkov that made it 3-1 at 5:41, Acciari buried a backhand shot from near the crease to complete his hat trick and extend the lead even further to 4-1. From there, Mike Matheson and Dominic Toninato joined in on the scoring at 15:06 and 19:28, respectively, to give the Panthers a lopsided 6-1 advantage heading into the third period.
Video: OTT@FLA: Acciari records first-career hat trick
Playing in his 500th NHL game, Huberdeau finished with a career-high four assists.
"I knew I was close, but I didn't know how close," said Huberdeau, who also reached the 400-point plateau tonight. "I think it was just a night that was working for our line. We played well. Obviously [Acciari] had an unbelievable hat trick. I'm really happy for him. With him and [Trocheck], we had a lot of chances and we played good. And, obviously, [Bobrovsky] as well."
Shutting the door all night and securing the win in the third, Bobrovsky finished with 29 saves.
"I thought we did some good things," Panthers coach Joel Quenneville said. "The game, as it progressed there, we were opportunistic on our goals around the net. [Acciari] did a lot of good things hanging around the net and that line had a good night. They kind of led the charge for us. "It was one of those games where, you know, it's a different look [with the lines] and you get a little excitement off it and then you get the reward some games. I still thought we did some decent things. I thought [Bobrovsky], again, was great in net."
With the win, Florida improved to 16-12-5 and moved into third place in the Atlantic Division.
Here are five takeaways from Monday's win in Sunrise…
1. THREE FOR ACCIARI
Acciari had never scored two goals in an NHL game before.
So, after already scoring a pair, why not just go for three?
Creating space for himself around the crease throughout the game, it only took just over 30 minutes for the 28-year-old to light the lamp not once, not twice, but thrice! With his hat trick, he also pushed his goal total on the season to eight - which is just two short of his career-high.
On his second goal, Acciari said he marveled at Huberdeau's incredible set-up.
Video: OTT@FLA: Huberdeau sets up Acciari's second tally
"I don't how he saw me," Acciari said, almost speechless. "He's special with the puck. He can find guys back-door, probably one of the best in the league. I'll stand there all day if I have to."
While he's primarily played as the team's fourth-line center this season, Acciari was moved up to the right side of the second line for tonight's game. In 14:27 of ice time, he also did a lot more than just fill up the net, recording two hits, two blocks and going a solid 6-for-9 in the faceoff dot.
In his first season with Florida, Acciari has notched 10 points and a team-high 53 hits.
2. BARKOV'S GOT POWER
Even though they only potted one goal, Florida looked mighty on the man advantage tonight.
With the Panthers pressuring on the power play, Huberdeau sent a spinning backhand pass from behind the net right onto the stick of Barkov, who then tapped in a goal from the doorstep right past Nilsson's outstretched pad to increase the lead to 3-1 at 5:41 of the second period.
Video: OTT@FLA: Barkov converts from in front for a PPG
Ranking second on the Panthers with 37 points (11 goals, 26 assists), Barkov has produced at a nice clip over his last 21 games, notching 11 goals and 13 assists in that span. After tonight, the 24-year-old now leads the team in goals (6) and ranks second in points (12) on the power play.
Going 1-for-6 tonight, Florida owns the league's eighth-ranked power play at 21.6 percent.
3. MATHESON NETS ANOTHER
Matheson put a little mustard on this one.
Sliding down from the blue line toward the center of the left circle, Matheson took a backhand pass from Huberdeau and blasted a one-timer that trickled through Nilsson's pads and across the goal line to extend Florida's lead to 5-1 with 4:54 remaining on the clock in the second period.
Video: OTT@FLA: Matheson unloads one-time slap shot for goal
"When I saw him coming around the net, I knew I didn't even have to call for it," Matheson said of Huberdeau's pass. "He's a special player. He's definitely the best passer I've played with."
Starting to heat up on offense, Matheson has now found the back of the net twice over his last four games. In 27 games this season, the 25-year-old defensemen has posted two goals and two assists. Additionally, he's also chipped in 20 hits, 26 blocks and 20 takeaways.
4. HUBERDEAU'S NIGHT OF MILESTONES
Huberdeau marked his 500th NHL game with a few more milestones.
Racking up a career-high four assists -- including three primary helpers -- the 26-year-old became just the second Panthers player to ever reach the 400-point plateau. With 19 more points, he'll move into a tie with Olli Jokinen (419) for the franchise's all-time scoring lead.
Of Acciari's three goals, two were assisted by Huberdeau.
"Before the game we just said that we're going to work hard," Huberdeau said of the new-look line. "We tried to play in their zone and create something off the forecheck. We know [Acciari] is a guy that's going to create some space for us, get some hits. That's what we did."
Video: OTT@FLA: Acciari beats Nilsson from the low slot
Leading the Panthers and ranking ninth in the league in scoring with 41 points, Huberdeau also ranks first on the team and tied for fifth in the league in assists (30). Over his last 21 games, he's been on an absolute tear on offense, racking up six goals and 22 assists for 28 points.
The third-overall pick in the 2011 NHL Draft, he's tallied 136 goals and 264 assists in his career.
"He can do a lot of good things," Quenneville said of Huberdeau. "He's got a lot of years left. A lot of points left to come as well, and a lot of games."
5. LET'S GO TONINATO
You've got to love the response from Toninato.
After being a healthy scratch last game, the 25-year-old forward made his presence felt in his return to the lineup when he re-directed a sharp-angel shot from Aaron Ekblad just past Nilsson from the right of the crease to put the Panthers up 5-1 with 32 seconds left in the middle frame.
Ekblad finished the game with two assists, pushing his point total on the season to 21.
"Give [Toninato] credit around the net," Quenneville said. "It was a nice simple play."
Video: OTT@FLA: Toninato deflects feed past Nilsson
In his second stint with the Panthers this season after being recalled from the AHL on Nov. 18 (he was previously recalled on Nov. 6), Toninato has registered three goals in 15 games while playing primarily on the team's fourth line. He's also accumulated 22 hits and five blocks.
Want to hear more from Toninato? Check out the most-recent episode of Territory Talk!
BONUS: BOBROVSKY ON CRUISE CONTROL
Not lost in tonight's offensive outburst was another big game from Bobrovsky in net.
Making his sixth straight start, the 31-year-old netminder turned aside 29 of 30 shots.
In that six-game stretch, he's stopped combined 203 of 213 shots for a .953 save percentage.
"It was definitely a really big game for us," said Bobrovsky, who improved to 12-9-4 on the season. "We need those points. We need good feelings in the locker room. I thought the guys did a great job."