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Poised Panthers top Preds in Rookie Tourney Opener

Poised Panthers top Predators in Rookie Tourney Opener

by Jameson Olive @JamesonCoop / Florida Panthers

CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. - The Florida Panthers are off to a hot start at this year's Rookie Tournament, defeating the Nashville Predators 6-3 in front of a packed house at the Panthers IceDen on Saturday night.

CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. - The Florida Panthers are off to a hot start at this year's Rookie Tournament, defeating the Nashville Predators 6-3 in front of a packed house at the Panthers IceDen on Saturday night.

In their first on-ice action of the annual competition, Florida looked poised and polished from the moment the puck dropped, generating scoring chances through crisp passing and smart positioning, while also managing to keep the puck out of danger in their own zone.

"I really enjoyed the 200-foot game the guys played for the first two periods," said Springfield Thunderbirds head coach Geordie Kinnear, who is coaching Florida's rookies throughout the tournament. "I thought the pressure we put on the guys was good. I know we had some skill guys play offensively, but what impressed me, especially early, was the attention to detail on the backcheck. The guys played a 200-foot game."

The Panthers took advantage of a struggling Predators squad early in the game, building a 3-0 lead before Nashville center Tylor Spink scored with 3:06 remaining in the second period.

"We tried to do a little bit too much, tried to overpass in the first couple periods," said Milwaukee Admirals head coach Dean Evason, who is coaching Nashville's rookies throughout the tournament. "We were going into their defense as opposed to around them. We were either nervous or trying to a little bit too much, one of the two. We simplified our game in the third. The group made a couple of adjustments, as far as getting pucks behind and simplifying the game, and consequently we were better."

Denis Malgin gave the Panthers an early lead at 6:37 of the first period, corralling a pass from Kyle Rau before firing the puck from the bottom of the right circle over the shoulder of goaltender Juuse Saros.

Soon after, Malgin found the back of the net again, deflecting defenseman Josh Brown's shot from the blue line, extending Florida's lead to 2-0 on his second goal of the contest.

"I knew he had skill and I knew he could make plays, but it was his 200-foot game and his compete level that impressed me," Kinnear said of Malgin, a fourth-round pick of the Panthers in 2015. "To be able to play at a high level, you've got to be able to do that. He was pretty impressive for those first two periods."

Samuel Montembeault , a third-round pick of the Panthers in the 2015 draft, shut out the Predators for the 30:54 he spent between the pipes, stopping all eight shots he faced before being replaced by backup Colin Stevens midway through the second period.

"I had a good practice before the game," Montembeault said. "The guys played really well in front of me. I didn't have to face to much shots. I played hard, worked fast and had a good game."

Nashville scored their first goal of the contest with 3:06 remaining the second period after Panthers forward Dryden Hunt was sent to the penalty box for cross checking. While on the power play, Spink was able to get free in front of Stevens, taking a pass from Justin Kirkland and firing off a shot off the top cross bar and into the net to make it 3-1.

"I thought we progressed as we went along," Predators forward Justin Kirkland said. "I think once we figured it out and simplified our game we picked up our pace. I thought our third period was really well and hopefully we can carrying that over into tomorrow's game."

Jayce Hawryluk , a second-round pick of the Panthers in the 2014 draft, scored what would prove to be the eventual game-winning goal at 3:58 of the third period, smacking an aggressive backhand shot past Saros to increase Florida's lead to 4-1.

Mike Matheson, who captained Florida's rookie squad, and Connor Brickley both scored for the Panthers later in the third period, while Nashville's Shane Walsh and Kevin Fiala each managed to find the back of the net during a late-scoring surge by the Predators.

In the end, Matheson said that communication was the key to Florida's victory.

"It's definitely important to get some communication going between us," said Matheson, who made his NHL debut with the Panthers last season. "That's the easiest way to get to know each other. I'd say that we did a good job of it tonight. Everyone was pretty focused right from the drop of the puck. We did a good job of communicating, backing each other up and staying positive throughout the entire game."

The Panthers continue the rookie tournament Sunday against the Washington Capitals. Puck drop is scheduled for 6:00 p.m. at the Panthers IceDen.

QUOTES

"As a team, I thought our back pressure was really key today. That was the success to our transition game, and we caught them on a few goals there. The transition was definitely big. And then just being physical in our own zone, being aggressive down low, and then getting the puck to the forwards and being able to score off the rush."

- Panthers defenseman Ian McCoshen .

"Juuse was our best player, no question. He was exhausted there at the end. You don't like to see a couple of short-sided goals that they scored on him, but he made so many saves. He's got to be exhausted. We actually contemplated taking him out in the third period, but decided we were close and he's a battler. He wouldn't want to come out and, you know, he was fine."

- Milwaukee Admirals head coach Dean Evason on Nashville goaltender Jusse Saros.

GAME 1 LINEUP vs. NASHVILLE

Kyle Rau - Denis Malgin - Jayce Hawyruluk

Rihards Bukarts - Juho Lammikko - Connor Brickley

Dryden Hunt - Tyson Baillie - Adam Mascherin

Anthony Greco - Jonathan Ang - Zac Lynch

Michael Matheson - Josh Brown

Ian McCoshen - Linus Hultstrom

Riley Stillman - Michael Downing

Starter: Samuel Montembeault // Backup: Colin Stevens

Scratches: Spencer Abraham (D), Ed Wittchow (D), Thomas Schemitsch (D)

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