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5 Takeaways: Connolly Sparks Panthers' Comeback Win in New Jersey

by Jameson Olive / @JamesonCoop / FloridaPanthers.com

10/14/19 Post Game Interviews

10/14/19 Post Game Interviews

Interviews with Head Coach Joel Quenneville, goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky and defensemen Aaron Ekblad and Mackenzie Weegar

  • 01:20 •

The Florida Panthers are heading home on the heels of some heroics.

After falling behind 4-1, the Panthers scored five unanswered goals to come from behind and secure a huge 6-4 win over the New Jersey Devils on Monday afternoon at Prudential Center.

"There was no doubt that we were coming back," said Panthers defenseman MacKenzie Weegar, who chipped in a goal and an assist from the blue line. "We've done it the past two games. We have the weapons in here to do that, and everyone in here contributed tonight." Jonathan Huberdeau broke the ice just 16 seconds into the first period to put Florida up 1-0.

After that, Taylor Hall, Jesper Bratt, Will Butcher and Pavel Zacha all lit the lamp for the Devils to take what appeared to be a commanding 4-1 lead early in the second period. At 9:50 of the middle frame, Brett Connolly got one back for the Panthers to slice the deficit in half at 4-2.

With eight seconds left in the period, Connolly struck again to get Florida within a goal at 4-3.

"I think that gave us good confidence, good momentum," said Panthers goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, who improved to 2-2-1 with in the win. "It's a big comeback, a huge two points." Thirty seconds after the puck dropped in the third period, Weegar scored on a long slap shot to tie the game at 4-4. Just seven minutes later, Noel Acciari tipped in another shot from Weegar for what proved to be the eventual game-winning goal that put the Panthers on top 5-4 at 7:30.

With 4:28 left in regulation, Evgenii Dadonov netted a power-play goal to make it 6-4.

"Up and down the lineup everyone was doing their job," said Panthers defenseman Aaron Ekblad, who finished the afternoon with a pair of assists. "I think we got the job done tonight."

The Panthers went 1-0-2 on their three-game road trip to improve to 2-2-2 on the season.

The Devils, meanwhile, remain the only team in the Eastern Conference without a win at 0-4-2.

"It turned out to be a good trip for us," Panthers coach Joel Quenneville said. "There were a lot of positives in that third period. I thought we might have played our best period in the third."

Here are five takeaways from Monday's win in Newark…

1. A QUICK SCORE

If you were late turning the game on, you probably missed this quick goal.

In his first shift of the game, Huberdeau tipped a no-look backhand pass from Dadonov into the net from the top of the blue paint to put Florida on top 1-0 just 16 seconds into the first period.

Video: FLA@NJD: Huberdeau stakes Panthers to early lead

On the heels of a career-best 92-point campaign in 2018-19 - including a franchise-record 62 assists -- Huberdeau has been producing at a point-per-game clip to start the season. Through six games, the 26-year-old winger ranks third on the team with six points (one goal, five assists).

Huberdeau's five assists lead the Panthers and also place him among the top-20 in the league.

2. TOP-SHELF TIMES TWO

Connolly went top-shelf twice in the second period to spark this afternoon's comeback.

A few seconds after Florida's power play had expired, Frank Vatrano sent a pass to Connolly, who went top-shelf with a one-timer from the high slot to cut New Jersey's lead to 4-2 at 9:50. 

Video: FLA@NJD: Connolly converts on Vatrano's feed

A little over 10 minutes later, Connolly was back at it again.

After Vincent Trocheck forced a turnover in the neutral zone, Mike Hoffman carried the puck into the right circle before dropping a pass right back to Connolly, who dragged the puck into the slot before scoring on a bar-down wrist shot to make it 4-3 with just eight seconds left in the period. 

Video: FLA@NJD: Connolly goes top shelf for second goal

"Connolly's goals in the second period were huge for our team," Ekblad said.

3. WEEGAR FROM WAY OUT

Weegar continues to shine since being moved up to the top-defensive pairing.

In a 4-3 hole entering the third period, the 25-year-old blueliner blasted home a one-timer from just beyond the left circle to get Florida back even at 4-4 just 30 seconds into the final frame.

Video: FLA@NJD: Weegar ties game with booming one-timer

"I think it was the play of No. 52 over here," Ekblad said, gesturing to Weegar when asked what he thinks turned the tides in the game. "He had a great game and really took care of business."

A seventh-round pick in the 2013 NHL Draft, Weegar has gotten off to a very good start in his third full season with the Panthers. In addition to leading the club's defenseman in goals (2), hits (9) and takeaways (3), he's also tied with Ekblad, his defensive partner, for the most points (4).

"I thought he was outstanding today," Quenneville said of Weegar, who also drew the double-minor penalty that led to Dadonov's late power-play goal. "I thought he had a special game, very noticeable. I think he's had an outstanding start to the season. Him and Ek [Ekblad] have been a solid pair. They seem to have a little confidence and poise with the puck at the top."

In 2018-19, Weegar finished with career-highs in goals (4), assists (11) and games played (64).

4. ACCIARI FOR THE WIN

After scoring the game-tying goal, Weegar assisted on the game-winner soon after.

With a lot of traffic in front of the net, Weegar let loose a slap shot from the point that was re-directed in the slot by Acciari past Cory Schneider to put Florida up 5-4 at 7:30 of the period.

Video: FLA@NJD: Acciari takes the lead on tip-in

Schneider finished with 28 saves on 34 shots.

"It was just exciting," Acciari said of the timely goal, which held up as the third game-winner of his career. "We all battled back to get where we were. We talked about how we all wanted to get that goal. It just happened to be me."

Joining the Panthers on a three-year deal this summer, Acciari reached career-highs in points (14) and hits (221) in his final season with Boston in 2018-19. Through six games this season, he's brought that same production to his new team, posting two goals, nine blocks and 15 hits.

"I think it just shows our character," Acciari said. "We ended the road trip off right."

Acciari also skated 3:18 in New Jersey on the penalty kill, which went a perfect 3-for-3.

5. NEW SEASON, NEW STREAK

Dadonov is heading home on a red-hot point streak.

With the Panthers leading 5-4 late in the third period, the 30-year-old winger iced the game with a great individual effort. Following a long shot from Mike Matheson, Dadonov dropped to the ice and whacked in the ensuing rebound to make it 6-4 with a very clutch power-play goal at 15:32. 

Video: FLA@NJD: Dadonov lays out to net rebound for PPG

During his current streak, he's notched seven points (four goals, three assists), including goals in four straight games as well. Finishing tonight's contest with a goal and an assist, he continues to be involved in all areas on offense, contributing on seven of Florida's last 11 goals overall.

"I don't worry about that line too much," Weegar said of Dadonov and the rest of team's other top scorers on the attack. "They're going to contribute every single night. They're fun to watch."

An early-season point streak is also nothing new for Dadonov, as he previously strung together a 12-game streak from Oct. 16 through Nov. 13 to kick off the 2018-19 campaign. With that hot start as a jumping off point, he went on to finish with 28 goals and a career-best 70 points.

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