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5 Takeaways: Panthers Defeat Stars, Lose Ekblad to Injury

by Jameson Olive / @JamesonCoop / FloridaPanthers.com

3/28/21 Post Game Interviews

3/28/21 Post Game Interviews

Interviews with Head Coach Joel Quenneville, forward Jonathan Huberdeau and defenseman Keith Yandle

  • 01:43 •

The final score almost seems unimportant tonight.

Playing arguably the best hockey of his budding career, Aaron Ekblad's season is now suddenly up in the air after the Panthers superstar defenseman suffered an injury and was stretchered off the ice at American Airlines Center during the second period of Sunday's 4-1 win over the Stars.

"You lose a guy like Ek [Ekblad], and you know the severity of it, you see it, and it's not an easy game to go through," Panthers coach Joel Quenneville said. "I thought the guys stayed with it and battled. It was a big two points for [Ekblad], and for us.

"At the same time, you're losing a guy that's having one of those seasons. You have a defenseman controlling [play] and playing big minutes and in all situations and you lose him. You lose his leadership. It's tough. It'll be a good test for us, for sure."

Difficult to watch as it happened, Ekblad's injury occurred when he skated into the boards with Stars defender Esa Lindell. Falling awkwardly after the contact, Ekblad immediately began to bang on the ice and signaled for help. Attended to by trainers for what seemed like an eternity, he waved as he was stretchered off the ice to the sound of encouraging cheers and stick taps.

Quenneville said Ekblad will fly home with the team and go through further testing on Monday.

"He's a great guy, a great teammate," Panthers winger Jonathan Huberdeau said. "It sucks. It's part of the game, a bad break. I didn't really see it. I don't really want to see it. It's a tough play. It's going to be tough to be without him, but we're going to support him."

Despite losing a great friend and teammate to injury, the Panthers pushed forward in his honor.

Taking advantage of an early power play, the Stars opened the scoring when Jason Robertson re-directed a pass from Roope Hintz past Chris Driedger just 4:32 into the first period. As it has been all season, however, falling into a 1-0 hole really didn't have much effect on the Panthers.

Getting the game even just 31 seconds later, Huberdeau stepped through a pair of defenders, skated into the slot and flicked a quick shot over Jake Oettinger's blocker to make it 1-1 at 5:03. Not long after that, Anthony Duclair put Florida on top 2-1 when he cashed in on a penalty shot.

Extending the lead, Huberdeau put everyone in Dallas on "hat trick watch" when he wired a long wrist shot through a defender's legs and into the far-side of the net on the power play to make it 3-1 at 13:37 and tilt the ice even further in the Panthers' favor heading into the first intermission.

Following Robertson's opening tally, the Cats scored three goals in a span of 8:40.

"I like the way the guys hung together and found ways to win," Quenneville said. "Huby had a big night tonight, and yesterday it was Hags [Carter Verhaeghe]. You've still got to battle around the net with the goalies, playing the right way and getting all four lines [going]."

After the incident with Ekblad occurred, a goalie battle ensued as both the Panthers and Stars seemed understandably shaken up. Over the final 40 minutes of play, neither netminder gave up a goal. In that span, Oettinger made nine saves, while Driedger stopped a whopping 27 shots.

With 1:05 left in regulation, Owen Tippett cashed in on an empty net to lock in the 4-1 win.

After losing the first three games on their trip, the Panthers responded with a two-game sweep of the Stars to improve to 22-9-4 and gain a tighter grip on a playoff spot in the Central Division.

"You get some excitement in certain ways, but right now is not the time to be excited," Quenneville said when asked about the team's success in the wake of losing Ekblad. "At the same time, I think there's a group here that has an ability to find ways to win hockey games."

Here are five takeaways from Sunday's win in Dallas…

1. CAN'T TOUCH THIS

Within a sea of green jerseys, Huberdeau somehow emerged with a goal.

Just 31 seconds after the Panthers fell behind 1-0, the dynamic winger scooped up a puck off the boards and skated down into the slot. Despite being surrounded by Stars, he still managed to find enough space to get a shot off and light the lamp to make it 1-1 at 5:03 of the first period.

Video: FLA@DAL: Huberdeau goes top shelf for 1-1 tie in 1st

"I want to be a good player every night," Huberdeau said.

Leading the Panthers in scoring with 40 points (13 goals, 27 assists), Huberdeau has notched three goals and five assists over his last eight games. Matching a season-high with 22:27 of ice time tonight, the 27-year-old also produced one hit, one block and four shots against the Stars.

2. DUKE OF DALLAS

Using his speed to draw a penalty, Duclair achieved something he'd never done before.

Converting on his first penalty shot in the NHL, Duclair, who was 0-for-3 in his career up until that point, skated in all alone on Oettinger, made a quick deke and then sent a shot off the far post and into the twine to break the tie and put the Panthers up 2-1 at 6:26 of the first period.

Video: FLA@DAL: Duclair scores on penalty shot for 2-1 lead

Pushing his point total to 15 (four goals, 11 assists) with his score tonight, Duclair has found the back of the net twice over his last six games. Applying plenty of pressure on Oettinger throughout the entire game, the 25-year-old winger went on to finish with a team-leading five shots.

3. POWER ON THE ROAD

The Panthers settled into a nice groove with the man advantage on this road trip.

Capping off a strong opening period, Huberdeau threaded a shot through a defender's legs and past Oettinger - who was screened by Alex Wennberg - for a timely power-play goal at 13:37 that gave the Panthers a commanding 3-1 lead heading into the first intermission.

Video: FLA@DAL: Huberdeau extends lead to 3-1 with PPG

"As a team, we played well tonight," Huberdeau. "That's how we're going to win games."

Scoring at least once with the extra attacker in four of five games on their trip, the Panthers went 5-for-20 (25%) during that span. Coming close to touching the twine more than once in Dallas tonight, they mustered 10 shot attempts and four scoring chances on the power play.

4. DRIEDGER DOES IT

Driedger simply shut the door on the Stars.

After surrendering an early goal, the 26-year-old goaltender stopped the next 31 shots he faced to backstop the Panthers to a critical win in Dallas. Finishing with 33 saves, he stood tall while turning aside all nine high-danger shot attempts that came his way, per NaturalStatTrick.com.

Of his stops, none were bigger than when he denied Hintz on a breakaway as the midway point of the third period approached to help maintain a 3-1 lead and stifle any sort of comeback attempt.

"He was awesome," Panthers defenseman Keith Yandle said of Driedger. "He's a calm goalie, good positionally. He's a guy that, when he's called upon, he brings his A-game. For us, to have two goalies that you can count on every night is a huge advantage."

Sitting at 9-4-2, Driedger boasts a stellar .927 save percentage through 15 starts this season.

5. FILLING IN

Like Aleksander Barkov, there's no one player that can replace Ekblad.

He's the man that shuts down opposing team's top players each and every game. He's one of the main trigger men on the power play, ranking tied for first among the league's blueliners with 11 goals, including six with the extra attacker. On Saturday, he was the one that led the Cats to victory, scoring the game-winning goal with 10 seconds left in overtime to take down the Stars.

With that in mind, the Panthers know it'll take a team effort to fill that void until he returns.

"Obviously, he wants to be out there," Huberdeau said of Ekblad. "He was having a tremendous year. He was always on the ice, playing 25-26 minutes every night. It's going to be a big loss, for sure, not only hockey. He wants to be there, be in the room. He's a great leader."

Getting to visit briefly with Ekblad after the injury, Huberdeau said they won for him tonight.

"We saw him for a bit," said Huberdeau, a teammate of Ekblad's for the past seven seasons. "Obviously, it wasn't the time to start talking. We just gave him a hug and told him to hang in there and that we'll be there for him."

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