We arrived at today’s title because Florida Panther rookie Jayce Hawryluk, who made his NHL debut last night called Aleksander Barkov a legend when asked about him. In yesterday’s pre game review the game day video was Countin’ On A Miracle. So there you go!
The Florida Panthers played a solid 50 minutes last night, and held on for the final 10 as the game went into overtime with Barkov scoring the game winner with his third goal of the game, and his first NHL hat trick! The first period was a rather even period with the Leafs having your typical opening 20 minutes on the road. It wasn’t that they weren’t pushing the play as maybe the lack of a morning skate saw them trying to find their legs. The Panthers meanwhile played a consistent game, not giving the Leafs too many chances, or too much room.
There were a few moments when Roberto Luongo had to come up big, and thank goodness he did. He flashed his glove a few times, and kept the Leafs off the board for a good portion of the game. Barkov became the first Panther player in franchise history to complete a hat trick with an overtime goal. Things that legends are made of.
“I still probably can’t believe it’s been like 10 years since my last hat trick and I kinda forgot how it feels” said Barkov. “Maybe I will realize later what happened.”
Jonathan Huberdeau added a goal and had an assist to continue his torrid pace of late, and Roberto Luongo made 29 saves for his 6th win of the season. The victory stopped the Panthers 4 game losing streak, which hopefully gives them some momentum for their upcoming road trip.
Even Leaf’s coach Mike Babcock was impressed by Barkov:
“Obviously Barkov was the best player on the ice by 10 miles. Their team was desperate, they hadn’t won in awhile, and our desperation didn’t match their skill level.”
The Panthers had controlled the lead from the final 4 seconds of the opening period when Barkov scored his first of the night. Huberdeau scored in the second on a power play for his 9th of the season. The lead would last until 10:24 of the third when John Tavares scored his 20th of the year. And the Leafs had life. They pushed hard. It wasn’t necessarily that the Panthers turtled. But the Leafs were definitely pushing the pace, showing their speed, skill and a little tenacity. Mitch Marner scored the first of his two goals to tie the game, with less than 4 minutes to go, but Barkov answered right back and scored his second of the game 27 seconds later. Marner tied the game with 1:40 to go, and overtime was looming.
Barkov scored the winner with some elite moves that you only wish you could make. While many of you enjoyed the Fox Sports Broadcast, here’s the Hockey Night In Canada description of Barkov’s three goals. Jim Hughson is doing the play by play and Craig Simpson is doing the analysis:
While Barkov was the story of the night, the game also featured the season debut of Henrik Borgstrom and NHL debut of Jayce Hawryluk of the Panthers. Borgstrom played on the second line with Evgenii Dadonov and Frank Vatrano and had a nice game. No mistakes, created a few chances and played just over 12 minutes. I don’t believe he played in the final 10 minutes of regulation, and did not see any action in overtime. A tough situation to be in, but in a game like this, as tight as it was, you have to manage his minutes and put him in situations where he can succeed. If he continues to play like he did last night, he’ll gain more trust and more ice time. Hawryluk played 5:55 on the 4th line with Michael Haley and Juho Lammikko. He provided energy, showed his speed, tenacity and willingness to play the body. Again, young players seeing essentially their first NHL action, you need to be mindful of the situations you put them in.
Speaking of ice time, and let’s not belabor the point because the coaching staff is full aware of it, Barkov played 27:42. It’s a dangerous pace, and coach Bob Boughner knows it. As the younger players continue to play better, let’s hope their ice time grows, and Barkovs reduces.
This was likely one of the best games of the season. It had a worthy opponent with a number of star players, an excited crowd, and a battle between two division rivals that felt almost like playoff atmosphere. This is the brand of hockey that the Panthers are going to need to play every night for the rest of the season. They held on at the end yes, but it’s what got them to that point that was impressive. They need to build on this game and gain some confidence and momentum from it. Their 5×5 play has to be better as well. They’ve scored at least one power play goal in 19 of the last 22 games. Their power play since the beginning of November has been outstanding.
The Panthers will take the road now with games in Buffalo, Toronto, Detroit and Chicago. They come back home on Friday the 28th to host the Montreal Canadiens. 8 road points available. 5 would be good. 6 would be great.
Thanks for reading.
Please follow me on Twitter @FrankRekas