NASHVILLE - Mike Matheson scored 10:52 into the third period to lift the Florida Panthers to a 5-3 victory over the Nashville Predators in Game 1 of Tuesday's doubleheader at Bridgestone Arena.
On the power play, the 23-year-old defenseman capitalized on a loose puck to the right of Nashville's net, taking the rebound and firing a shot past Nashville goaltender Juuse Saros for what would prove to be the eventual game-winning goal.
"Even though it's the first game of the preseason, it's nice to come back into the room after battling hard and winning a tight game like that," Matheson said.
Matheson hopes to play a big role on Florida's power play in 2017-18.
"I think it's a goal of mine to do that," said Matheson, who had 17 points (7-10-17) as a rookie last season. "I don't think it's the main thing I'm focusing on, though. At the end of the day, it's just a part of the game and, whether I'm out there helping the team or not, all that really matters is that we win."
Florida converted 2 of 7 power-play opportunities; Nashville was 1 of 11.
Henrik Haapala, a Finnish import who signed a two-year deal with the Panthers this summer, scored the only goal of the first period, finding the back of the net on a wrist shot from the slot to give the Panthers an early 1-0 lead at 4:32 of the opening frame.
In the second period, Connor Brickley, a former Panthers draft pick who was reacquired by the team during free agency, put the Panthers up 2-0 by cashing in on a nearly-empty net after Chase Balisy's shot pulled Saros out of position.
Saros stopped 23 of 27 shots.
"It's an all new coaching staff," said Brickley, who has 5 points (1-4-5) in 23 career NHL games, all with Florida. "I hope what they say is true, that everyone has a fresh start. I'm obviously just trying to come in here and trying to earn a job and just showcase my skills."
James Reimer was perfect in net for the Panthers, stopping all 15 shots he faced in 28:59 of action, which included having to fend off nearly two minutes of a 5-on-3 power play.
"I felt pretty good," Reimer said. "You never know how you're going to feel in an exhibition. You're just trying to get back into it; there's a little bit of rust. It's just a matter of getting back into it and just trying to feel the puck, feel the pace of the game and get ready for the season."
Reimer credited Florida's defense for keeping his crease free of Nashville skaters throughout the first period, as big-bodied defensemen like Alex Petrovic (6'4, 206 lbs.) and Josh Brown (6'5, 225 lbs.) used their size to limit the amount of quality chances the Predators had.
"I love our d-core," Reimer said. "I thought our whole team played really well, but especially our d-core. They were big and they took away time and space. They really showed well. They were talking and I was talking to them. It was a really good night for them."
Harri Sateri replaced Reimer in net midway through the second period, stopping 16 of 19 shots in 30:45 of ice time. With Sateri in net, Cody McLeod and Emil Pettersson each scored for the Predators to make it 2-2 heading into the third period.
Brickley and Matheson each scored in the third to put the Panthers up 4-2 midway through the period before Viktor Arvidsson briefly pulled the Predators back within striking distance when his power play goal cut Florida's lead to 4-3 at 11:23 of the third.
"We want to start hot and stay hot throughout the whole year," Brickley said. "I'm glad that we got the first win. Now we've got the night game and hopefully they cap it off with a win."
Denis Malgin made it 5-3 with an empty-net goal at 19:31 of the third.
Game 1 Lineup:
Henrik Happala - Denis Malgin - Owen Tippett
Dryden Hunt - Blaine Byron - Colton Sceviour
Connor Brickley - Curtis Valk- Jonathan Ang
Chase Balisy - Anthony Greco - Matt Buckles
Mike Matheson - Josh Brown
Keith Yandle - Alex Petrovic
Ed Wittchow - Reece Scarlett