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5 Takeaways: Knight Sharp in Debut as Panthers Cruise Past Columbus

by Jameson Olive / @JamesonCoop / FloridaPanthers.com

4/20/21 Post Game Interviews

4/20/21 Post Game Interviews

Interviews with Head Coach Joel Quenneville, goaltender Spencer Knight and forward Jonathan Huberdeau

  • 01:53 •

SUNRISE, Fla. - No matter the circumstances, it's all just hockey to Spencer Knight.

Only a day removed from celebrating his 20th birthday, the promising young goaltender looked like a seasoned veteran while turning aside 33 of 34 shots to backstop the Panthers to a 5-1 win over the Blue Jackets during his long-awaited NHL debut on Tuesday night at BB&T Center.

"I wasn't as nervous as I thought I would be," said Knight, who was taken with the 13th overall pick in the 2019 NHL Draft. "The guys did a good job of just keeping it light and telling me to just go out there and play hockey. That's what I tried to do. At the end of the day, it's just hockey."

The first Panthers goaltender to ever pick up a win in their debut, Knight also made history by becoming the youngest goaltender in franchise history to earn a victory, taking the record from Roberto Luongo, whose first win with Florida came on Nov. 25, 2000 when he was 21 years old.

"I thought he looked very cool and calm in the net," Panthers coach Joel Quenneville said of Knight, who starred at Boston College for two seasons before signing his three-year, entry-level contract on March 31. "The way he came out and handled pucks and assessed all his options, you could see an understanding of where everybody is around he rink. … He tracks the puck extremely well, looks big in the net. He's positionally aware. It was a great start for his career."

Spotting their rookie goaltender an early cushion, the Panthers jumped out to a 1-0 lead over the Blue Jackets when Aleksander Barkov took a pass from Nikita Gusev and sniped home a shot from just inside the right circle for his team-leading 19th goal at 6:52 of the opening period.

Less than a minute later, Sam Bennett, who has been absolutely tearing it up since coming over from the Flames at the trade deadline, doubled lead to 2-0 when he batted rebound out of mid-air past Joonas Korpisalo after a nifty deke-and-shoot sequence from Anthony Duclair at 7:06.

Sent to the power play late in the first period, the Blue Jackets finally managed to sneak a goal past Knight when Jack Roslovic cashed in on a rebound from in close to make it 2-1 at 16:16.

In the end, that would be the only goal that Knight would surrender. Over the final 40 minutes of play, he went a perfect 23-for-23 in the crease, including stopping 15 shots in the middle frame.

Tweet from @FlaPanthers: 33 saves later...Not too bad, @slknight30 👏#CBJvsFLA | @ukginc pic.twitter.com/ZtoBZtLe8E

"He might have been nervous, but it didn't show out there," Panthers forward Jonathan Huberdeau said of Knight, who was named the game's first star. "The way he moves the puck, like when he gets out of the net, it's pretty incredible. Very happy for him to get that first win."

Kicking off an unbridled scoring spree for the Panthers in the second period, Bennett kept the good times rolling when he followed up on a shot attempt from Huberdeau and sent the ensuing rebound right over Korpisalo to lock in a multi-goal performance and make it a 3-1 game at 7:04.

Returning to the ice after spending five minutes in the box for fighting earlier in the frame, Ryan Lomberg completed two-thirds of a Gordie Howe hat trick when he re-directed a fluttering pass from Frank Vatrano out of mid-air into the cage to increase Florida's advantage to 4-1 at 15:42.

Getting in on the goal-scoring fun after dishing out a pair of assets, Huberdeau then capped off the lopsided period when he collected a pass from Duclair, who made a few nifty moves before dishing the biscuit, and beat Korpisalo with a shot from the slot to make it a 5-1 game at 16:38.

Improving to 30-12-5 with the win, the Panthers are currently tied with the Hurricanes (30-10-5) for the top spot in the Central Division. And with nine games left to play and a two-game series coming up with Carolina this week, the Cats believe that a division title is still within their claws.

"We're right with them, but they've got [two] games in hand," Quenneville said. "We've got to take care of our end of it with these two games to have any chance. They're huge games from our point of view, and I'm sure they are for them as well. It's a huge measuring stick."

Here are five takeaways from Tuesday's win in Sunrise…

1. BARKOV'S SNIPE

This opening goal from Barkov was a thing of beauty.

Kicking a pass from Gusev up to his stick, the Panthers captain then carried the puck up into the right circle before ripping a wicked shot past Korpisalo to make it 1-0 at 6:52 of the first stanza.

Video: CBJ@FLA: Barkov wires wrist shot home from circle

"I think we've just got to keep playing our own game, a fast game," Barkov said. Continuing to terrorize opposing goaltenders, Barkov has now lit the lamp 11 times over his last 16 games to push his team-leading total to 19. The 25-year-old center also ranks second on the Panthers in points (46) and assists (27), trailing only Huberdeau in both of those categories.

2. BENNETT BURIES TWO

Do they sell Bennett jerseys in Pantherland yet? Asking for a friend.

Touching twine in back-to-back games, the newest member of the Cats continued to make his presence felt when he hit a rebound out of mid-air past Korpisalo and into the cage to double the lead to 2-0 at 7:06 of the first period - just 14 seconds after Barkov had opened the scoring.

Video: CBJ@FLA: Bennett nets bat-in goal 14 seconds later

"I think he brings a lot of things that we appreciate," Quenneville said of Bennett's game.

Back at it again in the second period, Bennett picked up another goal when he crashed the net and cashed in on a rebound to put Florida up 3-1 at 7:04. Overall, the trio of Huberdeau, Duclair and Bennett combined for four goals and eight assists in the two-game set against Columbus.

Video: CBJ@FLA: Bennett nets Huberdeau rebound for 2nd goal

"We're finding chemistry out there," Huberdeau said. "We're just keeping things simple. Obviously, Duke is really fast, and Sam just goes to the net and finds the puck and puts it in."

Quickly becoming a fan favorite in Florida, Bennett has now accumulated five points (three goals, two assists) in three games since being acquired from Calgary at the trade deadline.

3. DUCLAIR'S DISHES

With a helper on Bennett's second goal, Duclair earned the 100th assist of his NHL career.

Honestly, it seems like he's racked up that many over the last week alone.

Tweet from @FlaPanthers: And that one makes 💯 assists in the show for the Duke!Congrats @aduclair10 🔥#CBJvsFLA | @ukginc pic.twitter.com/zrPij6N9OV

Finishing with three assists against the Blue Jackets tonight, the 25-year-old forward extended his season-long point streak to seven games. In that span, he's recorded three goals and seven assists to increase his point total on the season to 24 (six goals, 18 assists) in 34 games played.

"Duke's got some speed," Quenneville said. "He's putting the puck in good areas."

4. LOMBERG DOES IT ALL

You know you're having a good night when you leave a fight smiling.

After serving five minutes in the penalty box for peppering Kole Sherwood with a few punches, Lomberg returned to the ice and re-directed a pass from Vatrano past Korpisalo to pull within an assist of a Gordie Howe hat trick and send the Panthers ahead 4-1 at 15:42 of the middle frame.

Video: CBJ@FLA: Lomberg redirects Vatrano's shot into net

"That was a lot of fun," Lomberg said of the second period. "The boys are buzzing out there."

Suiting up in 25 games with the Panthers so far this season, Lomberg has produced three points (two goals, one assists) and has also shown a knack for being able to get the team fired up through hits -- including three big checks tonight -- and dropping the gloves when needed.

There's also the hair, of course, which deserves its own end-of-season award.

Tweet from @JamesonCoop: .@ryanlomberg7 is a hockey player 💪 pic.twitter.com/7rO2Fs94Hl

5. HUBERDEAU CAPS IT OFF

With his line cooking all night, you knew it was only a matter of time until Huberdeau struck.

Putting a bow on a dominant period, the 27-year-old forward increased Florida's lead to 5-1 when he finished off a stunning feed from Duclair, who threaded the puck through the legs of a defender, with a wrist shot from the high slot that sailed past Korpisalo and into the net at 16:38.

Video: CBJ@FLA: Huberdeau rips Duclair's set-up inside post

"Were having fun," Huberdeau said of his new-look line. "We're making a lot of plays. When you play in the offensive zone most of the night, that's what makes it fun. We've been contributing to the success of the team and scoring goals lately. That's what we want to do."

Leading the Panthers in scoring with 49 points (16 goals, 33 assists), Huberdeau needs just one more goal or assist to secure his fourth straight season with at least 50 points. Additionally, he is also currently riding a five-game point streak in which he's recorded two goals and five assists.

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