5 Takeaways: Huberdeau Leads Panthers Past Sabres in 3rd Periodby Jameson Olive / @JamesonCoop / FloridaPanthers.com
SUNRISE, Fla. - The Florida Panthers felt that a scoring surge was coming.
After struggling to find the back of the net through the first 40 minutes of play, the Panthers finally solved goaltender Linus Ullmark in the third period, scoring four consecutive goals to come from behind and defeat the Buffalo Sabres 4-1 at BB&T Center on Tuesday night.
"I thought the goalie was playing pretty well, but I didn't think we were having second chances," Panthers winger Jonathan Huberdeau said. "He was making the first save, but after that we weren't around the net. I thought in the third, that's what we did. We skated well and we had a lot of opportunities."
Entering the third period trailing 1-0 after a power-play goal from Jack Eichel in the second, Huberdeau kickstarted the comeback with a backhand shot that beat Ullmark to tie the game 1-1. From there, the floodgates opened. Over the next 2:35, Jayce Hawryluk and Aleksander Barkov would each light the lamp to extend Florida's lead to 3-1 with 14:18 remaining in regulation.
"I thought our team played great all night, a full 60 minutes," Hawryluk said. "They scored a nice power-play goal. Other than that, I thought we were the better team for 60 minutes and the end result showed that."
At 16:45, Huberdeau netted his second goal of the game, undressing both Ullmark and Buffalo's defense to make it 4-1 and put the game out of reach for the Sabres, who made it 4-2 with eight seconds left in the game on a goal from Vladimir Sobotka. Of course, that was too little too late.
"I'm proud of the way they stuck with the game plan," Panthers coach Bob Boughner said. "We made a couple tweaks in between the second and third [periods]. I thought that helped each line, and the offense started coming." Panthers goaltender James Reimer made 32 saves to improve to 5-2-0 over his last 11 starts.
"I thought he played a great game," Boughner said. "They crashed the net pretty hard, especially in the second half of the game. He made the big saves we needed and kept them at bay until we could get our offense going."
Florida (26-24-8) has now won nine of its last 12 games, including three in a row.
"Just win every game," Huberdeau said of the road ahead. "I don't think it matters how many games [we need]. We've just got to win every game now. We're like nine points out of the playoffs, so we've just got to keep going."
Here are five takeaways from Tuesday's win in Sunrise…
1. A CLEAN FIRST
The Panthers didn't give the Sabres much to work with in the first period.
After 20 minutes of action, Florida held big advantages in shots on goal (12-6), shot attempts (21-9) and scoring chances (7-2). Most impressive, however, was the Panthers' ability to keep the slot clear and force everything to the outside, as Buffalo had just one high-danger attempt.
Florida was also the more physical team in the first period, dishing out a whopping 14 hits. Of those hits, Jayce Hawryluk, Mark Pysyk, Troy Brouwer and Frank Vatrano led the way with two apiece. Overall, 10 different Panthers registered at least one hit during the first period of play.
Florida finished the night with 30 hits and 15 blocked shots.
2. MATHESON HURT
The only bad news that came out of the first period was on the injury front.
After suffering a lower-body injury late in the first frame, defenseman Mike Matheson did not take the ice for the second and was ruled out for the rest of the game soon after. The 24-year-old's last shift came at 19:16. He skated for two seconds and then exited the game at 19:18.
Boughner had no immediate update on Matheson's status following the game.
A former first-round pick in 2012, Matheson has recorded five goals and 15 assists while skating an average of 22:13 in 55 games prior to tonight's matchup. His greatest contributions, however, have come on the penalty kill, where he leads the team with 128:53 and 22 blocked shots.
"He eats minutes," Boughner said. "He's been playing his best hockey, I think, in the second half. It gives opportunities for other guys. I like the way Cosh [Ian McCoshen] and Brownie [Josh Brown] and those guys stepped up when we needed them. You can't replace a guy like Matty, with the situations that he plays in. We've just got to try and support him until he gets back."
3. HUBER, THO
With a little help from his linemates, Huberdeau finally got the Panthers on the board.
After Frank Vatrano whacked a loose puck in his general direction, Huberdeau collected it and flew into the offensive zone with a head full of steam before tucking the puck underneath Ullmark's hulking 6-foot-3 frame to break the ice and make it a 1-1 game at 3:07 of the third period.
Video: BUF@FLA: Huberdeau slips backhander five-hole
"It was a good read," Huberdeau said of Vatrano's pass. "I think he dove to get me that pass. Like I said, playing with these two guys (Vatrano and Barkov) has been going well, so hopefully we can keep going."
Later in the period, Huberdeau capped off his first multi-goal game of the season, putting the pin on the scoring party he'd started with an absolutely gorgeous deke before a backhand shot that left Ullmark baffled and extended Florida's lead to 4-1 with 3:15 left on the clock in regulation.
"I think it was even nicer than mine, for sure," said Barkov, who garnered national recognition for his between-the-legs goal against Montreal on Sunday. "I mean, beating like three of their guys and the goalie, too… a little bit better celly [celebration] than mine, too."
Video: BUF@FLA: Huberdeau dangles, pots second goal
In the midst of the fourth 50-point season of his career, Huberdeau currently ranks second on the Panthers in points (56) and first in assists (41). With one helper against the Sabres, the 25-year-old now needs just two more assists to surpass the career-high 42 he posted last season.
4. SPEED JAYCER
What does real estate have in common with hockey? It's all about location.
After Vincent Trocheck's shot pinged off the cross-bar, the puck flew towards the left side of the crease, where it bounced off Hawryluk's mid-section and into the net to put the Panthers on top 2-1 at 3:50 of the third period - just 37 seconds after Huberdeau's goal had tied things up.
Video: BUF@FLA: Hawryluk gets a lucky break
"I was just trying to get to that puck so I could slap it at Troch," Hawryluk said. "He made a great shot, he saw that opening, quick release and fortunate bounce right off the post to me. I just kind of guided it in with my body. Didn't want to hit it with my hands or anything, so I just let it hit me and go in."
A second-round pick in 2014, Hawryluk has been having quite the rookie season since earning his first NHL call-up on Dec. 15. Deployed primarily on the fourth line, the 23-year-old winger has racked up four goals, two assists and 51 hits over 22 games.
"It's always a joy watching him score a goal," Vatrano said with a smirk. "I'm happy for him. He's a great kid and it's fun to watch him."
5. BARKY BOOMS 'EM
It wasn't a between-the-legs goal, but that doesn't mean it wasn't pretty.
After notching his second hat trick of the season against Montreal on Sunday, Barkov lit the lamp once again on Tuesday night, undressing a defender with a demonic toe drag before somehow sneaking a shot through Ullmark to put the Panthers up 3-1 at 5:42 of the third period.
Video: BUF@FLA: Barkov stuffs the puck under Ullmark's stick
"I was kind of trying to look for a pass until the end," Barkov said. "Then I just tried to jam it in the goalie's pads, maybe get a rebound. Then, behind the net, I saw the puck was in the net. I would call it a lucky goal."
Barkov leads the Panthers with 60 points (23 goals, 37 assists) this season, including four goals and three assists over his last two games. The 23-year-old center has now reached the 60-point plateau for the second straight season, posting a career-best 78 during the 2017-18 campaign.
"The last month we've been really good," Barkov said. "We've been winning games and having fun on the ice and in practices. Everybody comes here and has fun and works hard. We're happy that we're having success right now… We need to keep going and keep getting better."