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5 Takeaways: Driedger Shines, Acciari Scores as Panthers Win in Carolina

by Jameson Olive / @JamesonCoop / FloridaPanthers.com

12/21/19 Post Game Interviews

12/21/19 Post Game Interviews

Interviews with Head Coach Joel Quenneville and forward Brian Boyle and goaltender Chris Driedger.

  • 01:20 •

It didn't take long for Chris Driedger to shake off the cobwebs.

After backing up in each of the last seven games, the 25-year-old goaltender made a career-high 42 saves in his return to the crease to help the Florida Panthers push their winning streak to three games with a 4-2 win against the Carolina Hurricanes at PNC Arena on Saturday night.

Before tonight, Florida had not won at Carolina since Dec. 18, 2015.

"Over the course of the season you get some goalie wins, and that was one of them," Panthers coach Joel Quenneville said. "He was great. He was square, patient. His rebound control was huge, and he challenged [opposing shooters] at the right times. An outstanding game for him."

Playing on short rest after ending their franchise-record, nine-game homestand with a 7-4 win over the Dallas Stars on Friday night in Sunrise, the Panthers still managed to jump out to an early lead on a breakaway goal from Evgenii Dadonov that made it 1-0 at 7:07 of the first period.

In the second, Brian Boyle increased Florida's advantage to 2-0 when he tipped in a goal past Petr Mrazek on the power play at 11:34. Then, 26 seconds into the third, Jonathan Huberdeau added a power-play goal of his own when he beat Mrazek on the man advantage to make it 3-0.

The Panthers went 2-for-3 with the extra attacker, while the Hurricanes finished 1-for-3.

"That's big, especially now," Boyle said. "Everything's so tight. They say a lot in the playoffs that special teams battles are usually the difference maker. It's a big factor here in the season, too. When you get power-play opportunities on the road in a back-to-back, it gets more important and you really want to execute and steal momentum. I think we did a pretty good job of that."

At 9:16, Nino Niederreiter finally got the Hurricanes on the board when he sent a loose puck past Driedger to make it 3-1. But just over a minute later, Noel Acciari got one right back for Florida when he netted his seventh goal over his last three games to make it 4-1 at 10:41.

After that, Lucas Wallmark scored for Carolina on the power play to make it 4-2 at 12:59.

Driedger finished with 42 saves on 44 shots, while Mrazek stopped 18 of 22.

"They had a lot of shots through traffic, but our guys did a great job of blocking shots," said Driedger, who had 18 days off in between starts. "We just kind of built our game from there. By the time they turned it on in the third, we had a sizeable lead and their push just wasn't enough."

With the win, the Panthers (18-12-5) moved into third place in the Atlantic Division with two games in hand on the second-place Toronto Maple Leafs. Meanwhile, the Hurricanes (22-12-2) saw their point streak snapped at seven games, but still sit third in the Metropolitan Division.

Florida will play its last game before the holiday break on Monday at the Tampa Bay Lightning.

"I think we're just having a lot of fun out there," Acciari said. "Being our first road game in a while, I think we response pretty well out there in the first. We were able to keep a lead the whole game, and that was important for us. Now, we've got a big game on Monday."

Here are five takeaways from Saturday's win in Raleigh…

1. NO BRAKES

It was a breakaway that broke the ice tonight.

Receiving a slick tape-to-tape stretch pass from Boyle, Dadonov flew past a pair of defenders before beating Mrazek in a one-on-one battle to put Florida ahead 1-0 at 7:07 of the first period.

Video: FLA@CAR: Dadonov starts the scoring on breakaway

"I knew [Boyle] was going to get the puck, so I just tried to jump behind their D," Dadonov told FOX Sports Florida's Katie Gaus during the first intermission. "I expected it right away, and he passed it. You look at the goalie, you see a hole and then you just try to put [the puck] in."

Tied with Huberdeau for second place on the team's goal-scoring list, Dadonov has now lit the lamp 13 times this season. The 30-year-old forward also ranks fourth on the Panthers in points (26) and tied for fifth in assists (13).

Over his last 10 games, he has four goals and three assists.

2. BOYLER ROOM

Boyle used all 6-foot-6 of his hulking frame to blind Mrazek on this goal.

With the Panthers on the power play, Boyle dug in his skates at the top of the blue paint before tipping in a long shot from Aaron Ekblad to extend the lead to 2-0 at 11:34 of the second period.

Video: FLA@CAR: Boyle deflects in Ekblad shot for PPG

"The ability and the talent we have on this team offensively has never been in question," Boyle said of Florida's offense, which is averaging the third-most goals in the league per game (3.51).

Finishing with a goal and an assist, Boyle was named the game's second star. In 26 games since joining the Panthers on Oct. 20, the 35-year-old center has racked up 10 points (five goals, five assists) while also ranking first on the team in faceoff win percentage (54.6).

In the faceoff circle tonight, Boyle won 7-of-9 draws.

3. THE HUBER-SHOW

Huberdeau is making a strong case to earn his first trip to the All-Star Game.

With the Panthers entering the third period on the man advantage, the 26-year-old winger took a pin-point pass from Aleksander Barkov and then deftly slid the puck right around a sprawled-out Mrazek and into the back of the net to push the lead to 3-0 just 26 seconds into the final frame.

Finishing with a goal and an assist, Huberdeau has 10 points over his last three games.

Video: FLA@CAR: Huberdeau scores PPG in 3rd period

"He's been playing unbelievably these last couple games," Acciari said of Huberdeau.

In addition to leading Panthers and ranking tied for seventh in the league with a whopping 47 points, Huberdeau is also tied for fourth in the league in assists (34) and sits tied for second on the team in goals (13).

Over his last 18 games, he's notched 26 points (four goals, 22 assists).

4. GET READY FOR ACC-TION

It wasn't a hat trick, but we'll take it.

After producing three goals in each of the last two games, Acciari remained blazingly hot and extended his goal-scoring streak to three games when he received a pass from Huberdeau and snapped a shot over Mrazek's glove to give the Panthers a 4-1 lead at 10:41 of the third period.

Video: FLA@CAR: Acciari restores Panthers' three-goal lead

In three games since moving up to play with Huberdeau and Vincent Trocheck, Acciari has lit the lamp a team-high seven times and pushed his career-high goal total on the season to 12.

"I'm fortunate to be playing with those guys," said Acciari, who's previous career-high in goals was 10, a feat he achieved in 60 games with the Boston Bruins in 2017-18. "Those guys are special out there and it's a pleasure to play with them. It's working out for us right now."

Thanks to his incredible scoring surge, Acciari is now tied for fourth on the Panthers in goals (12), but also leads the team in hits (58) and blocked shots (51). In tonight's game, the 28-year-old forward finished tied with defenseman MacKenzie Weegar with a team-high four blocks.

"What Noel is doing now is pretty awesome," Boyle said. "It's fun watching him."

5. DRIEDGER RETURNS

Boyle said Driedger's play in net was "probably the biggest reason" the Panthers won tonight.

"That's high praise," Driedger, looking stunned, said after hearing the comment. "Thanks Brian."

Making just the third start of his NHL career, Driedger, who was recalled from AHL Springfield on Nov. 25, was outstanding from the moment the puck dropped against the Hurricanes. After stopping 24 shots over the first two periods, he turned aside 18 of 20 over the final 20 minutes.

"I just try and take it save by save," said Driedger, who last saw the ice on Dec. 3. "I know my game. When I play well and I don't think about outside factors, things tend to go better than if I do think about those things. I just try to play my game, keep things simple, slow my game down and try to give the guys the best chance to win."

In three starts this season, Driedger, who signed a two-year, two-way contract with Florida in April, owns a 2-1-0 record with a 1.69 goals-against average, .948 save percentage and one shutout.

"It's a feel-good thing for the team and good for him," Quenneville said. "It obviously puts us in a good spot knowing that you're comfortable giving him those opportunities."

BONUS: BLOCK PARTY

The Panthers helped Driedger out quite a bit tonight with a season-high 23 blocked shots.

Overall, at least 12 of Florida's skaters registered a block.

"There were some key timely blocks today," Quenneville said.

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