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5 Takeaways: Panthers Beat Preds to Push Point Streak to 8 Games

by Jameson Olive / @JamesonCoop / FloridaPanthers.com

2/5/21 Post Game Interviews

2/5/21 Post Game Interviews

Interviews with Head Coach Joel Quenneville, forward Carter Verhaeghe, goaltender Chris Driedger and defenseman Noah Juulsen

  • 01:45 •

SUNRISE, Fla. - In full control from start to finish, the Panthers extended their season-opening point streak to eight games with a 2-1 win over the Predators at BB&T Center on Friday night.

Getting a bit of revenge in the process, the hard-fought victory came just 24 hours after Florida let a late lead slip through its fingers in a difficult overtime loss to Nashville on Thursday night.

"A very happy team win," Panthers coach Joel Quenneville said. "It's exciting for the guys, but basically we said this morning, 'Hey, let's move past [last night's loss], let's get incentivized by it and let's go out and have our best game.'"

Aided by a fortunate bounce, the Predators jumped out an early 1-0 lead just 4:04 into the first period of tonight's matchup. After Chris Driedger made the initial stop on Colton Sissons' shot, the rebound then bounced oddly off Sissons' skate and trickled into the net to open the scoring.

That's how the score would hold heading into the first intermission, even though Florida held lopsided advantages in both shots on goal (20-5) and shot attempts (25-11) after 20 minutes.

"We stayed with it even though we were down early," Quenneville said. "I thought our first period was fine. We did have pucks at the net, a lot of loose stuff. They just weren't bouncing our way."

Thankfully, all that hard work finally paid off early in the second period when Carter Verhaeghe set up Aleksander Barkov for a goal to tie the game 1-1 just 5:58 into the middle frame. A little bit later, Barkov returned the favor, teeing up Verhaeghe for a nice goal to make it 2-1 at 15:31.

With time winding down in the period, the Panthers also showed their toughness.

After tensions boiled over between Jonathan Huberdeau and Nick Cousins, Radko Gudas and Patric Hornqvist both jumped into action after a brawl broke out. Gudas took on two Predators all by himself - almost like separating two kids - while Hornqvist pinned another to the bench.

"Our team is going to be harder to play against, and that's a good thing," Quenneville said.

While both teams exchanged some looks in the third period, the game ended up coming down to the wire. Holding onto a 2-1 lead, Driedger stared down Erik Haula and made the save of the game with about 15 seconds left on the clock to lock in the win and keep Nashville off the board.

Driedger finished with 24 saves, while Pekka Rinne stopped 34 shots for the Predators.

As it stands now, Florida's eight-game point streak is the second-longest in franchise history to open a season, trailing only the team's 12-game streak that opened up the 1996-97 campaign.

"I thought we played a hard game throughout," Quenneville said. "Trailing after one [period], I didn't mind our first either. They got a fortunate break right off the bat and we were playing catch-up… I thought our team game defensively was really good. A smart, hard-fought win."

Here are five takeaways from Friday night's win in Sunrise…

1. BARKOV BREAKS THE SEAL

Barkov immediately told Verhaeghe "nice pass" after this one.

Threading a pass through several Predators, Verhaeghe got the puck right onto Barkov's stick as he was cutting down towards the net. With only the goaltender to beat, Barkov then lifted a shot over Rinne and into the back of the net to tie the game 1-1 at 5:58 of the second period.

Video: NSH@FLA: Barkov finishes Verhaege's great pass

"Barky's line has been standing out, night in and night out," Quenneville said.

Playing like a man possessed this season, Barkov ranks second on the Panthers in scoring with 11 points (four goals, seven assists). Finding a way to make a dent in the scoresheet more often than not, the 25-year-old center has registered at least one point in seven of eight games so far.

2. TIPPETT'S FIRST HELPER

Fresh off the taxi squad, Owen Tippett picked up the first assist of his NHL career tonight.

Making a nice move along the boards on Barkov's aforementioned goal, the 21-year-old rookie was credited with a secondary assist on the play after helping get the puck to Verhaeghe. Back on the ice after a brief stint on the taxi squad, Tippett also had three hits over 11:07 of ice time.

"Tippy got better as the game went on," Quenneville said. "He had a nice big hit late in the game, a couple [scoring] threats off the wall. He'll find his way through with that shot. It's just that consistency we're looking to get from him.

"Game in, game out that predictable power forward that he can be, that's something we're striving for. Just putting that together is not an easy thing to say or do, but we look forward to helping him progress."

The 10th overall pick in the 2017 NHL Draft, Tippett has appeared in six games this season.

3. RETURNING THE FAVOR

It didn't take long for Barkov to pay back Verhaeghe for his sweet set-up.

With the game tied 1-1, Verhaeghe finished off a tic-tac-toe passing sequence with Barkov to make it 2-1 and give the Panthers their first lead of the night with 4:29 left in the second period.

Video: NSH@FLA: Verhaeghe cashes in on passing sequence

"The whole team's clicking," said Verhaeghe, who inked a two-year contract with Florida in the offseason. "If one guy's not going, the other guys are going. It's awesome. The chemistry with me and Barky, he's a great player, so easy to play with... We click pretty well, same with Duke."

Making a strong case for the best under-the-radar signing of the offseason, Verhaeghe has been filling up the back of the net ever since the season started. Lighting the lamp in five of eight games, he leads the team in goals (6), with all of them being scored at even strength.

"Everyone's saying it's a fresh start here," Verhaeghe said. "There's a lot of new guys, and everyone is coming in and gelling together. It's going well so far, but it's only [eight] games. There's a ton more games. We've still got lots of work to do."

4. DRIEDGER SOLID AGAIN

Quenneville said Driedger was "rock solid" once again tonight.

Improving to 3-0-1 on the season, the 26-year-old goaltender shook off Nashville's fluky goal in the first period and locked it down from there on out, turning aside 24 of 25 shots that came his way, including three that originated from high-danger areas, according to NaturalStatTrick.com.

In four starts, Driedger owns a 1.72 goals-against average and .942 save percentage.

"Every win, every start, every game in this league is just a little more experience to fall back on," said Driedger, who is in his second season with Florida. "I've been fortunate to see some starts here in the first few games. It's been good, and the wins definitely help. It's been a lot of fun."

Making sure the Panthers wouldn't have to deal with overtime once again, Driedger saved the best for last when he stopped Haula on a breakaway with roughly 15 seconds left on the clock.

Tweet from @JamesonCoop: .@ChrisDriedger with the game-saving stop. 🙏 pic.twitter.com/OIuNxcfQxu

"I just tried and stay square, stay big and keep my ground," Driedger said when asked about the game-sealing save. "He had some back-checkers coming in and it looked like he was going to shoot it, so I went down and just tried to take up as much net as I could and got a shoulder on it."

5. JUULSEN'S DEBUT

Noah Juulsen wore the Panthers shield on his chest for the first time tonight.

Claimed off waivers from Montreal on Jan. 11, the 23-year-old defenseman was paired with Keith Yandle on the blue line in his debut. Skating 14:20, he registered five hits and two shots on goal. At 5-on-5, Florida controlled 51.85 percent of shot attempts when he was on the ice.

Dealing with injuries early in his career, the game was his first in the NHL since Dec. 17, 2018.

"It felt great," Juulsen said. "Obviously, it's been a long time coming. I didn't even know if I'd have this opportunity this year. I'm just thankful for Florida for picking me up and getting that opportunity tonight."

The 26th overall pick in the 2015 NHL draft, Juulsen had appeared in 44 NHL games over parts of two seasons with the Canadiens prior to tonight's contest, notching two goals and six assists.

"I think just being with the guys," Juulsen said when asked about what he missed most over the last few seasons. "Going out there and playing an NHL game is something everyone wants to do. I think that was the biggest part I missed. With fans, the atmosphere was great. I'm thankful that I'm here."

BONUS: AS GUDAS IT GETS

After dishing out 10 hits on Thursday, Gudas had nine more tonight.

If you're keeping score at home, that's 19 hits in two games for "The Butcher."

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