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5 Takeaways: 'Unstoppable' Barkov's OT Winner Sends Panthers Past Stars

by Jameson Olive / @JamesonCoop / FloridaPanthers.com

5/3/21 Post Game Interviews

5/3/21 Post Game Interviews

Interviews with Head Coach Joel Quenneville, forward Owen Tippett and defensemen MacKenzie Weegar and Gustav Forsling

  • 01:53 •

SUNRISE, Fla. - The opportunity was too good to pass up.

Sent to the power play in overtime, Aleksander Barkov rocketed a one-timer into the top right corner of the cage to lift the Panthers to a 5-4 win over the Stars at BB&T Center on Monday.

"When he's playing on top of his game like this, I think he's unstoppable," Panthers defenseman MacKenzie Weegar said of Barkov, who has scored 18 goals over his last 23 games to push his team-leading total to 26. "He's a great leader. He really brings it off the ice and on the ice. … I truly think he's the best player in the world. He showed it tonight again. He was dominant."

Playing with purpose from the moment the puck dropped, the Panthers jumped out to an early lead tonight when Jonathan Huberdeau finished off a 2-on-1 break with Owen Tippett by tucking a backhand shot past Anton Khudobin and into the net to make it 1-0 at 1:53 of the first period.

Just 49 seconds after that, Nikita Gusev doubled the advantage to 2-0 in the blink of an eye when he followed up on a shot from Brandon Montour and buried the ensuing rebound at 2:42.

Getting the Stars on the board, Joe Pavelski then cut Florida's lead in half when he roofed a shot past Spencer Knight on the power play from the doorstep to make it a 2-1 game at 12:04.

With Tippett dishing out his second primary assist of the game, the Panthers then managed to get that goal back soon after when Weegar corralled no-look drop pass from his gifted rookie teammate and then wired home a wicked wrist shot from the high slot to make it 3-1 at 14:13.

"They look solid," Weegar said of Florida's abundance of talented rookies. "I remember on the bench me and Gudie [Radko Gudas] were talking about them tonight. They're playing the right way and they're getting rewarded for it. They're getting good chances."

For the final goal of the opening 20 minutes, the Stars got a little help when an errant pass from a Panthers defender went off Knight's skate and across the goal like to make it 3-2 at 17:16. As the last Dallas skater to touch the puck, Roope Hintz was credited with the score on the play.

In the second period, the Panthers padded their lead a bit when Grigori Denisenko fended off a pair of defenders on the end boards before sending the puck to Gustav Forsling, who then rifled a shot from the high slot over Khudobin's glove to make it 4-2 only 45 seconds into the frame.

Turning the game on its head in a hurry, the Stars then evened things up when Joel Kiviranta and Tyler Seguin, who returned from injury to make his season debut, lit the lamp at 3:55 and 4:06, respectively, to get the score tied 4-4 early in the third period with lots of time left to play.

Between the pipes, Jake Oettinger, who took over for Khudobin after Forsling's goal, turned aside 27 of 28 shots during a strong relief appearance, while Knight finished with 25 saves.

With the game eventually getting to overtime, Barkov did it all. After drawing a hooking penalty on Pavelski, the Panthers captain then took a pass from Keith Yandle on the ensuing 4-on-3 power play and blasted home a one-timer to secure the 4-3 victory and another big two points.

Video: DAL@FLA: Barkov buries Yandle one-timer for PPG in OT

Earning their franchise-record 10th overtime win this season, the Panthers improved to 35-14-5 and remain just two points behind the Hurricanes (35-10-7) for first place in the Central Division.

"They battled hard," Weegar said of the Stars, who fell to 21-17-14. "They're a good team. They play heavy. They play patient hockey. They got a few behind us in the third, but I still think we played a good game and found a way to get the two points. That's all that matters."

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

1. HUBERDEAU OPENS IT UP

Like Santana featuring Rob Thomas, this goal was smooth.

Flying up the right side of the ice on a 2-on-1 break, Tippett sauced a pass over a defender's stick to Huberdeau, who then pulled the puck to his backhand and tucked it around Khudobin's left pad and into the back of the net to give the Panthers a 1-0 lead at 1:53 of the first period.

Video: DAL@FLA: Huberdeau nets backhand goal on 2-on-1 rush

Leading the Panthers with 59 points (19 goals, 40 assists) - which also places him eighth in NHL scoring - Huberdeau has tallied three and four assists in his last four games. Approaching a major milestone, the 27-year-old forward needs just four more points to hit 500 in his career.

2. GUSEV GETS ANOTHER

Once the goose is let loose, it appears you can't put him back in a cage.

Netting a goal for the second straight game, Gusev followed up on a shot from Montour and then backhanded the rebound past Khudobin to extend Florida's lead to 2-0 at 2:42 of the first period.

Video: DAL@FLA: Gusev deposits rebound goal 49 seconds later

"I think he's had a couple of real strong games, not just his production," Quenneville said of Gusev. "He seems like he has the puck more. I think defensively, where he's supposed to be around the ice, that's coming naturally to him. He's getting better conditioned. He hadn't been on the ice a while there. In a short amount of time, it looks like he's recaptured some of that pace to his game."

Already appearing in 10 games with the Panthers since he signed as a free agent last month, Gusev has recorded five points (two goals, three assists) in that span. Finding success in South Florida, those points match what he notched in 20 games prior to being cut loose by the Devils.

Also having a great possession game tonight, the Cats led the Stars 12-3 in shots on goal and 14-9 in shot attempts when Gusev was deployed on the ice at 5-on-5, per NaturalStatTrick.com.

3. WEEGAR WIRES ONE

Between the pass and the finish, there was a lot to like on this goal.

Taking a no-look drop pass from Tippett, Weegar skated into the high slot before ripping a wrist shot that zoomed straight past Khudobin to put the Panthers up 3-1 at 14:13 of the first stanza.

Video: DAL@FLA: Weegar rifles wrist shot for transition goal

Widely considered among the most-underrated defensemen in the league, Weegar continues to build upon what is already the best season of his budding career. Of his career-high 34 points (five goals, 29 assists), 29 have come at even-strength, which ranks first among NHL blueliners.

In addition to posting two points tonight, Weegar also chipped in two hits and four blocks.

4. A GOAL FOR GUS

The legend of "Bobby Forrsling" continues.

Only a game removed from earning his new nickname after making a few dazzling plays during Saturday's win at Chicago, Forsling flashed his skills again tonight when he took a sweet dish from Denisenko and buried a one-timer to make it 4-2 just 45 seconds into the second period.

Video: DAL@FLA: Forsling snaps goal home from high slot

"Getting some points is always fun," said Forsling, who has posted one goal and two assists in his last two games. "I just try to play my game defensively first. The points are going to come."

Stepping up in the absence of Aaron Ekblad, Forsling has been playing alongside Weegar on Florida's top pairing ever since the Panthers lost their top defenseman to a lower-body injury. In those 19 games since, the 24-year-old has posted three goals, seven assists and a +13 rating.

A revelation since being claimed off waivers from the Hurricanes during training camp, Forsling has already set new career-highs in goals (5) and points (15) through just 41 games played.

5. HISTORY FOR KNIGHT

This could have easily been another take for Barkov, but let's give him a break tonight.

Instead, how about Knight?

By making 25 saves tonight -- including four from high-danger areas, per NaturalStatTrick.com -- the 20-year-old rookie became the youngest goaltender in NHL history to begin their career with a perfect 4-0-0 record. In those four appearances, he owns a strong .919 save percentage.

"It was a good test," Quenneville said of Knight's performance against the Stars. "A good learning curve knowing that you've got different situations and you've always got to be prepared. In the course of a game, things can change quickly. Momentum is very important. Goaltenders, a lot of times, influence momentum. I thought he settled down [after allowing those two goals in the third period] and found a way to win. … He does a lot of good things."

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