Aaron Ekblad, Brandon Montour and Jonah Gadjovich all made their season debut Friday night, Anthony Stolarz had 34 saves against his former team and the Florida Panthers beat the Anaheim Ducks 2-1 at the Honda Center.
Eetu Luostarinen and Oliver Ekman-Larsson scored as the Panthers won for the sixth time in seven games. Anton Lundell picked up two assists and was voted first-star of the game.
“I thought Lundy and Luosty had an unbelievable game tonight,” Ekman-Larsson said.
Ekblad and Montour had been recovering from offseason surgeries after they were injured in Florida’s run to the Stanley Cup Final last season — both were activated earlier today.
“We (Ekblad and Montour) went through five months of pretty gruelling rehab to get back to this point,” Ekblad said to Bally Sports rinkside reporter Katie Engleson postgame. “It was tough, it was a long road, it’s very sweet to get back into the lineup.
Jonah Gadjovich, who was also injured through the offseason, made his Panthers debut in Anaheim after returning today from an LTIR conditioning stint in the AHL with the Charlotte Checkers.
Panthers’ captain Aleksander Barkov left the game early in the third period after taking a knee-on-knee hit from Ducks Jackson LaCombe. LaCombe was originally assessed as a five-minute major before it was downgraded to a two-minute minor for tripping. Barkov did not return to the game.
Panthers coach Paul Maurice couldn’t provide an update on Barkov’s injury post-game.
“We got to get him back [to Florida] and get him looked at,” Maurice said. “Then, we’ll see from there.”
Barkov has had a great start to the season, averaging a point-per-game while driving the play at both ends of the ice for Florida. Anytime without their captain would be a major blow to this team — who seemed to finally get healthy with the return of Ekblad and Montour today, and Sam Bennett last week.
Radko Gudas, who spent the past three seasons with the Panthers, was reacquainted with his former teammates for the first time since signing with the Ducks in the offseason. Gudas was a key player on the Panthers blueline during the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Anaheim trailed 2-0 for the entirety of the second period — not getting on the board until later in the third.
Former Panther Frank Vatrano broke the ice for Anaheim, scoring his 12th goal of the season, 7:39 into the final period of regulation.
The Ducks best period of the night was in the third. Following the Vatrano goal, Anaheim picked up their pace, outshooting the Panthers 15-3 in the final 20 minutes of play.
Stolarz came up big down the stretch for the Panthers, winning his second game in four days. He is now 3-1-0 in his four starts this season.
“He was, I think our best player,” Anton Lundell said about Stolarz. “We needed some big saves in key moments and we got them today from him.”
After going 2-1-0 on their California road trip, the Panthers improve to 11-5-1 on the season. They’ll return to Sunrise for three-straight home games.