SUNRISE – After more than a week away from game play due to the All-Star break, the Florida Panthers traded in their flip flops for hockey skates as they returned to FLA Live Arena to take on the Tampa Bay Lightning in another edition of the Battle of Florida.
The Cats didn’t miss a beat from their last game, the Jan. 28th comeback win against the Boston Bruins tonight against their cross-state rivals.
2023 All-Star Game MVP Matthew Tkachuk continued his dominant season with a five-point night in the Panthers 7-1 win.
Here’s tonight’s takeaways.
No post All-Star slump for Matthew Tkachuk
On Saturday night, FLA Live Arena belonged to the Panthers’ star forward Matthew Tkachuk.
No. 19 won All-Star MVP with his seven point performance across the two games the Atlantic Division played in the All-Star Game.
Two nights later he was back in the same building with a little more at stake.
Tkachuk finished the night with two goals and three assists, pushing his season point total to 71.
“I have a really good understanding of Matthew as a player,” said head coach Paul Maurice. “He’s an elite, elite talent.”
It took Tkachuk 60 games last season to reach 70 points with Calgary. He hit that tonight in game number 50.
Carter Verhaeghe is creeping in on 30 goals
Season three with the Panthers is proving to be the best one for Carter Verhaeghe.
The 27-year-old was sitting on 26 goals entering tonight’s game against his former club.
Verhaeghe potted two more goals tonight, on top of two assists, bumping his career-high goal total to 28 this season.
As long as he stays on the ice, it’s looking like a sure thing he hits the 30-goal milestone, with 40 not out of the possibility.
His teammates spoke about how effective Verhaeghe has been offensively.
“He’s got so much speed, so it’s all about hitting him in the right spots in the offensive zone,” Tkachuk said about Verhaeghe. “He’s got such a great shot so it’s actually really easy to play with him.”
Aleksander Barkov injury scare
In the second period, Panthers’ captain Aleksander Barkov took a puck off the hand, which sent him to the locker room.
Barkov did not return to the game following the blocked shot.
Panthers head coach Paul Maurice said Barkov probably won’t skate tomorrow, however they don’t think this is going to be a long-term injury.
Sergei Bobrovsky makes 30 saves in his return
The Panthers starting goalie hasn’t seen game action since he got injured in the opening minutes against Montreal on Jan. 19th.
Tonight in his first start since then, Bob slammed the door on Tampa, stopping 32 of 33 shots faced.
“There was a tip early in that first period that he got his pad out on, [he was] real big on the penalty kill,” said Maurice on Bobrovsky’s game. “The right saves at the right time are so critical, especially against a powerful team like that.”
Bobrovsky’s movement was smooth across the crease; it didn’t look like there were any lingering issues from the injury that kept him sidelined for the last three weeks.
Spencer Knight, who hasn’t played an NHL game since Jan. 8th in Dallas was the backup tonight, Florida sent goaltender Alex Lyon down to Charlotte (AHL). Lyon played in the last six games for the Panthers.
Net front presence wins the game
When a team wins by six goals, it’s a little harder to pinpoint where they were most dominant.
What jumped out to me was how aggressive the Panthers were in front of the Lightning net.
Goals from Tkachuk, Bennett, Luostarinen and Staal all came from around the Tampa crease.
Florida is a fast team that is good off the rush, but when they are able to be the aggressor in 1-on-1 battles, it can change the dynamic of their game.
“The Luosatarinen goal is the way goals are scored in the playoffs and or I just say at this time of year, it gets harder and it’s a grind game” said Maurice. “Pucks from the point, pucks in the net front, Luostarinen’s tip, that’s the future of the way we have to score.”