What a game! The Florida Panthers defeated the Columbus Blue Jackets last night 4-3 to get to their first 3-0-0 start in franchise history. Patric Hornqvist scored the game tying goal with only three seconds left in regulation. The win was also the first win for the Cats at Nationwide Arena since December 2015.
The Blue Jackets drew first blood as a Kevin Stenlund shot was deflected by the sliding Radko Gudas past Sergei Bobrovsky on their first shot of the game 2:11 in the first. Mikko Koivu got an assist in his Blue Jackets debut right off the bat with the assist on the Stenlund goal. It was a weak goal given up by Bobrovsky.
The Panthers immediately turned up the pressure but Korpisalo stood strong. Columbus added to their lead as a screen and deflection by Alex Texier on their second shot made it 2-0 Columbus halfway through the first.
The Panthers struck back as the speedy duo of Carter Verehaege and Anthony Duclair took off like the roadrunner. Duclair was hooked trying to score and the puck went behind the net to Verehaege. The 6’2 winger fired the puck off the back pad of Korpisalo from behind the net and the puck went in to make the game a 2-1 affair.
An Owen Tippett high sticking penalty gave the Jackets a 4 min powerplay to end the period.
Zach Werenski had a great chance on the powerplay but Bobrovsky came up with his first big save of the night.
The Panthers top line once again began to cause trouble in the offensive zone. A bit of distraction left Aleksander Barkov with the whole middle of the ice open in front of the net. A nice dish by Verehaege found Barkov, and the Finnish captain buried it past Korpisalo for his first of the season.
Barkov had one of his best games in a long time as he put up 8 shots on goal, which doesn’t count a post that he hit. The Panthers hit about three posts throughout the night, which is what they’ve been averaging per game so far. To be fair, I probably hit the post three times a game every time I play a street hockey game with my buddies.
The game stalled out after that as Columbus finally stemmed the Panthers siege.
The Panthers started the period on the powerplay, but a Yandle mistake led to Cam Atkinson on a shorthanded rush. Atkinson quickly sniped the puck as Bobrovsky misplayed Atkinson, making it 3 to 2 Columbus.
The third period settled into a classic hockey game as both sides didn’t give up an inch for most of the period.
With twelve seconds left, Alex Wennberg won a key offensive zone draw. With a 6 on 5 advantage due to the empty net, Mackenzie Weegar found Aaron Ekblad. Ekblad held on to the puck for a few seconds, giving every Panther fan a heart attack. Ekblad shot at about the 5 second mark. Korpisalo made a save but he couldn’t control the rebound. And who gets the rebound? None other than Patric Hornqvist. The Swede batted the rebound out of the air to tie the game with only seconds left.
The Panthers started Overtime with complete puck possession. The Cats got some good chances but Korpisalo came up huge. A Frank Vatrano penalty negated this advantage, giving the Blue Jackets a 4 on 3 advantage with 2:16 left.
The Jackets powerplay went to work but Bobrovsky came up clutch, making some big saves, as the Panthers successfully killed off the penalty and forced a shootout.
This game kind of convinced me that an endless sudden death 3 on 3 would be far superior to the shootout.
The Blue Jackets opted to go first in the shootout. Mikko Koivu had the first attempt and the puck rolled on him before he could get a shot on Bobrovsky. Frank Vatrano was the first shooter for Florida and he missed wide.
Cam Atkinson went second, but his shot was saved by Bobrovsky. Jonathan Huberdeau went for Florida and after waiting out Korpisalo, Huberdeau sniped one past the Finnish netminder to give Bob a chance to close it.
Unfortunately, Oliver Bjorkstrand pulled a beautiful move, completely deking out Bobrovsky making him fall forward before a wrist shot tied the shootout. Anthony Duclair had a chance to win it, but he ran out of space on his chance as he failed to shoot before running into Korpisalo.
Max Domi started the fourth round by pinging one off the crossbar. This gave Captain Aleksander Barkov a chance to win it. Once regarded as the king of shootouts, Barkov has struggled in his past several attempts in this extra frame as he has overly relied on his patented backhand. Once again Barkov went to the backhand and Korpisalo read it perfectly.
Mikhail Grigorenko had a solid attempt but Sergei Bobrovsky made a phenomenal save. Patric Hornqvist came up in the bottom of the 5th. The Swede would score his first career shootout goal with a snipe past Korpisalo to give the Panthers the victory.
My Three Stars
My first star goes to Patric Hornqvist for his heroics.
My second star goes to Aleksander Barkov.
My third star goes to Carter Verehaege.
The Panthers end this two game set tomorrow, looking for their first regulation win at Nationwide Arena since November 21st, 2007. Both teams will see reinforcements as Jack Roslovic makes his Blue Jackets debut. Markus Nutivaara is expected to make his Panthers debut against his old team, following a stint in COVID protocol. Chris Driedger is expected to get the start in net.