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5 Takeaways: Panthers Get 60-Minute Effort in Win Over Penguins

by Jameson Olive / @JamesonCoop / FloridaPanthers.com

Post Game Interviews 1/5/20

Post Game Interviews 1/5/20

Interviews with Head Coach Joel Quenneville, forward Vincent Trocheck and goaltender Chris Driedger

  • 00:55 •

The Florida Panthers had no passengers tonight.

Piecing together one of their best all-around efforts of the season, the Panthers climbed back into a playoff spot with a 4-1 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins at PPG Paints Arena on Sunday.

"We played a full 60 minutes," Panthers center Vincent Trocheck said. "It's been an issue of ours, closing out games in the third period, coming out a little bit flat when we have the lead. Tonight, we came out in the third and played just as well as we did in the first and second."

The Panthers wasted no time in lighting the lamp tonight, as Frank Vatrano followed his own shot and sent the rebound past Tristan Jarry to make it 1-0 just 2:28 into the opening period.

Just over a minute later, Jared McCann evened things up for the Penguins, taking a pass from Dominik Simon on a rush up the ice before firing a shot past Chris Driedger to make it 1-1 at 3:52.

At 10:44, Brett Connolly lifted a shot through traffic to put Florida back up 2-1.

"It was a great shot," Panthers coach Joel Quenneville said. "Huge timing."

After a scoreless second period, Mike Hoffman gave the Panthers with some breathing room when he took a pass from Vatrano and ripped a shot over Jarry's glove to make it 3-1 at 8:52 of the third. With 2:28 remaining in regulation, Jonathan Huberdeau flipped a puck up ice to Dadonov, who then tapped his team-leading 18th goal of the season into the empty net to secure the 4-1 final for Florida.

Video: FLA@PIT: Dadonov directs puck into empty net

Driedger made 31 saves; Jarry, the NHL's "Second Star of the Month" in December, also made 31.

"It was great," Driedger said. "I was especially really happy with the way we shut it down in the third period. Playing with the lead like that, good teams find ways to win. We had a couple goals there and played well defensively. All around, it was a great effort."

Prior to tonight, the Panthers had not won a game in Pittsburgh since Jan. 20, 2014.

"I thought we started the game the way we wanted to," Hoffman said. "Driedger made some saves when it was expected. All four lines were rolling. The [defense] was involved in the play, and that made it tough on them. You get all those things going together, the outcome is usually positive."

Going 2-2-0 on their road swing, the Panthers have picked up wins in seven of their last 10 games. At 22-15-5, they are currently in possession of the second wild card spot in the Eastern Conference.

Florida will kick off a four-game homestand against Arizona on Tuesday at BB&T Center.

"We're halfway through the season," Quenneville said. "We've had some inconsistencies in our game, but I thought today was what we're trying to stress - playing the score, playing the clock, playing the right way, [having a] checking mentality in our game when we have a lead on the road.

"I thought we did that tonight, but it's an ongoing challenge because it's been a little bit unpredictable so far. I like the fact that, nailing it today, I think it's a good trend to start. Let's reinforce that going forward."

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

1. FRANK'S FOLLOW-UP

If at first you don't succeed, just score off your own rebound.

Flying up the right boards into the offensive zone, Vatrano cut towards the crease while fending off a defender before sending a backhand shot on net. Although his initial attempt was stopped, he followed his own rebound and banged it home to put Florida up 1-0 at 2:28 of the first period.

Video: FLA@PIT: Vatrano follows up rebound in front for goal

"It got us going right off the bat," Quenneville said. "Frankie made a great play off the rush and finished with a nice play around the net. We've had some ordinary starts lately, so it was nice to have a lead like we had today. He's got that dangerous speed."

Finishing with a goal and an assist, Vatrano has now tallied four points (two goals, two assists) over his last six games. Playing in all 42 games so far this season, the 25-year-old winger has contributed nine goals, nine assists and 59 hits while averaging 15:06 of ice time per contest.

In tonight's win, Vatrano tied a team-high mark with four hits and also had one takeaway.

2. BRETT IN DA BURGH

Even before this held up as the game-winner, you could sense that it was a big goal.

With Noel Acciari drawing a lot of attention near the net, Connolly took a tape-to-tape feed from Trocheck and went top-shelf from the slot to put the Panthers up 2-1 at 10:44 of the first period.

"Noel was at the net and brought a lot of guys to him," Connolly told Fox Sports Florida's Katie Gaus during an interview in the first intermission. "[Trocheck's pass] kind of went through a couple people. I was all alone. I just tried to get it up and it went in. It was a big goal for us."

Video: FLA@PIT: Connolly nets Trocheck feed through traffic

Ranking third on the Panthers with 16 goals, Connolly needs just six more to match the career-high 22 he posted last season with Washington. In his first season with Florida after joining the team on a four-year deal this summer, the 27-year-old has also posted 10 assists and 26 points.

3. KEEP IT GOING

The Panthers never took their foot off the gas.

Leading 2-1 in the third period, Hoffman collected a pass from Vatrano, lined up his shot, and then sent the puck screaming into the back of the net to increase the advantage to 3-1 at 8:52.

Video: FLA@PIT: Hoffman roofs wrist shot from outside circle

"We wanted to play the right way," Hoffman said of the third period. "We knew that they might playing a little more risky and if we played well defensively we might get a few opportunities going the other way. I thought we played solid right until the end of the game."

Named the game's first star after notching a goal and an assist in the win, Hoffman has been cracking the scoresheet quite a bit recently. Producing at a point-per-game clip the last two weeks, the 30-year-old winger has notched two goals and six assists in his last eight contests.

Hoffman ranks tied for fourth on Florida in goals (14) and fifth in points (31).

4. DRIEDGER LOOKS GREAT

After playing roughly half a game the night before, Driedger showed no signs of fatigue.

Stopping all 11 shots he faced during a relief appearance in Buffalo on Saturday, the 25-year-old backup looked just as sharp in Pittsburgh while stopping 31 of 32 shots to pick up the win.

"Real solid," Quenneville said of Driedger. "Had some key, key saves."

Recalled from AHL Springfield on Nov. 25, Driedger, who had not started an NHL game before this season, has looked excellent during his limited sample size thus far. In six appearances, he owns a 4-1-0 record with a 1.82 goals-against average, .944 save percentage and one shutout.

While there were a few to choose from, his biggest save tonight was likely when he gobbled up a wide-open shot from Simon in the slot keep Florida on top 2-1 heading into the third period.

"The guys did a great job," said Driedger, who stopped 10 of 11 high-danger shots against the Penguins. "Last game we weren't happy with the loss there, so we kind of rallied. We tried to do the little things a little bit better. [Quenneville] talked to us, and as a team we all listened."

5. TROCHECK IT OFF THE LIST

Playing where it all began, Trocheck suited up in the 400th game of his NHL career tonight.

A Pittsburgh native, the 26-year-old center had no shortage of friends and family cheering him on as he pieced together a very solid game to commemorate the milestone. In 16:29 of ice time, he posted an assist, four hits and went an outstanding 11-for-15 (73 percent) in the faceoff circle.

Tweet from @FlaPanthersPR: Tonight at PIT, Vincent Trocheck is playing in his 400th @NHL Game. pic.twitter.com/bJ4vvxLk4K

"It's awesome," Trocheck said. "Four hundred is a lot of games. I never thought I'd get to this point when I was younger, and doing it here in Pittsburgh is a huge bonus."

Selected in the third round (64th overall) by the Panthers in the 2011 NHL Draft, Trocheck, an All-Star in 2016-17, has tallied 106 goals and 162 assists for 268 points in his career thus far.

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