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5 Takeaways: Red-Hot Huberdeau Leads Panthers to Win Over Canadiens

by Jameson Olive / @JamesonCoop / FloridaPanthers.com

12/29/19 Post Game Interviews

12/29/19 Post Game Interviews

Interviews with Head Coach Joel Quenneville, forwards Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau and defenseman Mike Matheson.

  • 01:30 •

SUNRISE, Fla. - Jonathan Huberdeau won't ever forget this night.

Playing in front of 160 family and friends, the Saint-Jerome, Quebec native pieced together one of the best games of his burgeoning career, racking up two goals and two assists to help lift the Florida Panthers to a 6-5 victory over the Montreal Canadiens at BB&T Center on Sunday night.

"A lot of tickets, but it was fun to see the support," said Huberdeau, whose family has spent part of the holiday season in South Florida ever since he was a baby. "They've been so good to me."

Prior to the game, Huberdeau's sister Josiane also sang the American and Canadian anthems.

"She's tremendous," Huberdeau said. "She sings once a year and it seems like she sings a lot. She was great. She did the American anthem as well. It was a really special night. It was good."

Kicking off what wound up being a rollercoaster of a game, Noel Acciari beat Carey Price from the top of the crease to give the Panthers an early 1-0 lead at 4:34 of the first period. Not long after that, Aleksander Barkov increased the advantage to 2-0 with nifty backhand goal at 6:33.

Later in the period, Tomas Tatar tilted the momentum back in Montreal's favor when he beat Sergei Bobrovsky on the power play to cut the deficit down to 2-1. Feeding off that goal, Jeff Petry and Max Domi each scored to put the Canadiens up 3-2 just 2:12 into the second period.

Then, the rollercoaster did its next loop.

After Barkov tied the game 3-3 with his second goal of the night at 3:41, Huberdeau scored twice within 35 seconds to give Florida a 5-3 lead with 5:55 remaining in the middle frame.

"It was really nice," Barkov said tonight's sellout crowd of 19,651. "It was a good crowd here."

Mike Matheson increased that advantage to 6-3 with a long seeing-eye goal just 45 seconds into the third period before Jesperi Kotkaniemi cut Montreal's deficit back down to 6-4 at 4:11.

With 1:52 left in regulation, Shea Weber gave fans a brief scare when he buried a booming shot to make it 6-5 after the Canadiens pulled their goaltender in favor of the extra attacker.

But, in the end, the Panthers held on to earn their fifth win over their last six games.

Bobrovsky finished with 38 saves, while Price allowed six goals on 34 shots.

Video: MTL@FLA: Bobrovsky robs Chiarot with his glove

"We gave up a lot of good chances and Bob was tremendous again tonight," Huberdeau said of the back-and-forth nature of the matchup. "We've just got to tighten it up a little bit defensively. The atmosphere was unbelievable tonight. A lot of rush up and down. It was a good game."

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

1. NOEL'S GOAL

Acciari has got this whole goal-scoring thing figured out, doesn't he?

Jumping on rebound near the top of the crease, Acciari outmuscled a defender before sending the loose puck into the back of the net to give the Panthers a 1-0 lead at 4:34 of the first period.

Video: MTL@FLA: Acciari cleans up loose puck in front

"He's always in the right place," Quenneville said. "He did the right things around the net."

One of the hottest goal-scorers in the league heading into the New Year, Acciari has recorded eight goals - including consecutive hat tricks - over his last six games. In his first season with Florida, the 28-year-old forward has already set new career-highs in goals (13) and points (16).

Leading the team with 66 hits, Acciari also doled out two body checks against Montreal.

2. BIG NIGHT FOR BARKOV

Just 1:59 after Acciari opened the scoring, Barkov doubled the lead.

Collecting a pass from Huberdeau in the slot, Florida's captain spun around before sweeping a quick backhand shot past Price and into the net to make it a 2-0 game at 6:33 of the first period.

Video: MTL@FLA: Barkov spins and buries backhand goal

Not done there, he struck again in the second to swing momentum back in Florida's favor.

On the receiving end of yet another beautiful dish from Huberdeau, Barkov shook off a defender and one-timed a shot from just outside the crease to tie game 3-3 at 3:41 of the middle frame.

"I didn't think it was in the net," said Barkov, who has 16 goals in 22 career games against the Canadiens. "Carey Price, he's one of the best goalies to ever play this game. I have huge respect for him. Just paying against that team, I feel like there's extra motivation."

Video: MTL@FLA: Barkov finishes feed from Huberdeau

Finishing the game with two goals and one assist, Barkov picked up his team-leading 15th multi-point performance of the season. Sitting second on the Panthers in points (45) and assists (32), the 24-year-old center is also locked into a three-way tie for fourth on the team in goals (13).

Over his last 26 games, Barkov has notched 32 points (13 goals, 19 assists).

3. THE HUBER-SHOW

Huberdeau's season is shaping up to be historic.

With four points tonight, the 26-year-old winger became the first Panther to eclipse the 50-point plateau this season. On pace to surpass the career-high 92 points he registered in 2018-19, he currently paces the team in goals (16), assists (37) and points (53) through 38 games played.

"Huby was special tonight," Quenneville said. "He had several nice looks. He made great plays and had the puck on his stick a lot. I thought that line played well together… They started well and played well throughout. They did a lot of things with purpose in their game."

Touching the twine twice against Montreal, Huberdeau's first goal was a bit of an unusual one. Set up below the goal line, he sent a shot on net that took a fortuitous bounce off a defender's skate before going straight into the net to give Florida a 4-3 lead at 13:30 of the second period.

Video: MTL@FLA: Huberdeau scores off defender's skate

"It touched the skate and went in," Huberdeau said. "It was a fortunate bounce."

Then, less than a minute later, he struck again.

Returning the favor for a few previous passes earlier in the game, Barkov found Huberdeau skating up ice with a slick cross-ice feed. Flying into the offensive zone, Huberdeau then let loose a powerful shot from the left circle over Price's glove to extend the lead to 5-3 at 14:05.

Video: MTL@FLA: Huberdeau beats Price for second goal

"I'm not even surprised," Huberdeau said of Barkov's impressive pass. "He makes some great passes. He's such a good player. He found me. Everything was working tonight."

Over his last 22 games played, Huberdeau has recorded 33 points (seven goals, 26 assists). With seven more points, he will tie Olli Jokinen for the most in franchise history (419).

4. MATHESON MAKES IT HAPPEN

Huberdeau wasn't the only Quebec native to have a big night for the Panthers.

Finishing the game with a season-high three points, Matheson extended the lead to 6-3 just 45 seconds into the third period when he beat Price with a long wrist shot from below the blue line.

Video: MTL@FLA: Matheson scores from the blue line

"It felt good," said Matheson, a native of Pointe-Claire, Quebec. "I think all around it was a good game for us on a back-to-back, coming in and having a lot of intensity, fighting back each time that we let up a goal. At the same time, there's definitely stuff that we can learn from the game."

Putting a dent in the scoresheet in recent weeks, Matheson has now tallied three goals and three assists over his last nine games. In 32 games this season, the 25-year-old has notched eight points (three goals, five assists), while also posting 29 hits, 30 blocks and 23 takeaways.

When told about Huberdeau's long guest list, Matheson chuckled that his was a bit shorter.

"I had six," he laughed. "Not quite the Huby-level. He had a great game."

5. A FOUR-POINT SWING

There's a reason they call these divisional matchups four-point games.

With tonight's win, the Panthers (20-13-5) gained a firmer grasp on third place in the Atlantic Division and moved three points ahead of the Canadiens (18-15-6) with one game in hand.

"I like the results," Quenneville said of Florida's performance in recent games. "I think we can learn to play with leads a little more effectively. That's the learning curve that we're in right now. We're doing a lot of good things to score goals, and that's a positive."

As it stands now, Florida trails the Toronto Maple Leafs (21-14-5) by two points for second place with two games in hand.

"It means a lot, especially since games against our division are four-point games," Barkov said. "We've got to win those. We've done a good job the last couple games."

Looking to continue their climb up the standings, the Panthers will play their next four games on the road.

"We've been home a lot," Matheson said. "It's going to be good for us to get out on the road."

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