The Panthers came into last night’s game looking for a big response after their heartbreaking final minute collapse in Boston the night before. They more than delivered the response they were looking for. Sam Montembeault made his second career start with James Reimer serving as backup and Roberto Luongo taking the night off. Montembeault earned his first career win with a 26-save performance while Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau, and Mackenzie Weegar provided career-best performances to help bury the Wild by a score of 6-2.
The Panthers came out firing in the first period with Huberdeau scoring his 21st of the year just one minute into the game. Evgenii Dadonov and Sasha Barkov combined for their first of many several assists on the night. Sam Montembeault stood tall after facing a short lived push from the Wild until Aaron Ekblad scored what appeared to be a highlight reel worthy goal. The Wild would challenge for offside and the goal was waved off. The scored remained the same until Mackenzie Weegar scored on a point shot which took a lucky bounce off Ryan Suter’s pants. Weegar would tally another goal on a point slapper just over a minute later. In a matter of two minutes, Weegar tripled his season-long goal total. The period would end with the Panthers leading 3-0.
The Wild would pull starting goalie Devan Dubnyk in favor of Alex Stalock to start the second period. The results were largely the same for Minnesota. Mike Hoffman ripped his patented one-timer goal on a 5 on 3 power play. Barkov and Huberdeau assisted again. The Wild responded on a whacky bounce that beat “Monty.” The Panthers stretched the lead back out when Jonathan Huberdeau found Mike Matheson streaking in for a wrist shot goal. The Wild countered once again just 15 seconds later on a rebound to make it a 5-2 game. The Panthers went on the power play one more time in the period. It appeared that Barkov scored to make it 6-2 as time expired but after review, the goal was just a half second late. The period ended at 5-2.
The third was easily one of the most fun periods of hockey at BB&T Center this year as we may have seen the brightest flash of the future in goal for the Panthers. The third period was all about Sam “Monty” Montembeault. With the score still at 5-2, the Wild really made a push and generated some great chances. Monty shut them all down. First, he made a cross-crease sprawling save to deny a would-be tap in goal. Then, on a Wild power play, he made four saves point blank in front of the net, followed by an incredible acrobatic save which saw Montembeault dive into a full split as he made a blocker save to keep the Panthers’ lead at three goals. Mackenzie Weegar, in the middle of play, went out of his way to tap his stick on Montembeault’s pads in salute of his tremendous play. Perhaps the moment of the night came at 12 minutes to go in the third when the building erupted into a chant of “Mon-ty! Mon-ty! Mon-ty!” The kid may have already won over the fan base and it was great to see the crowd acknowledge his incredible play. Shortly thereafter, Barkov found Matheson for his second of the night. The assist gave Barkov his fifth helper of the game! It was smooth sailing until the final mintes when Henrik Borgstrom took a high hit that bloodied his nose. Marcus Foligno and Josh Brown then dropped the gloves and Brown quickly slammed Foligno to the ice to provide a fitting end to the Panthers’ dominant win over the Wild.
Shots: Wild-28 Panthers-29
Power Plays: Wild-(0/3) Panthers-(1/3)
Faceoffs Won: Wild-20 Panthers-26
Hits: Wild-24 Panthers-25
Blocked Shots: Wild-9 Panthers-8
Wow where do we begin? There’s quite a bit to cover, but we’ll start with the play of the top line. Barkov (5), Huberdeau (4), and Dadonov (3) combined for 12 points! Barkov and Huberdeau each had career highs in points and Barkov set a franchise record for assists in a game. It’s also worth noting that Barkov was painfully close to recording a seven point outing as he assisted on the Ekblad goal that was waved off and he scored a goal himself just after the buzzer. What a story that would have been if both goals had counted. Barkov and Huberdeau are continuing to prove that they are superstar talents in this league.
The play of Sam Montembeault was highly refreshing as he showed the entire arena and the fans watching at home why he is seen as the future franchise goalie of this team. His composure is advanced beyond his age. He has athleticism that no other goalie in the organization can match. And most impressively to me, he plays the puck at an elite level similar to Pekka Rinne, Mike Smith, etc. He has great handles and fantastic vision and accuracy as a passer. It’s a nice change of pace to have a new age puck handler in goal. I could get used to more chants of “Mon-ty!” at these home games.
With two goals each from Mike Matheson and Mackenzie Weegar, the Panthers got four goals from defensmen which is a new record for goals by two Panther defensemen in a game. Hopefully the blue line production will continue going forward.
The Cats are next in action on Sunday at 5 p.m. at home vs the Detroit Red Wings.
Thanks for reading!