Panthers deliver St. Louis its first loss of the season.
Panthers take to upbeat tempo with easy win
SUNRISE — Three games are insufficient to get a definitive read on the direction this Panthers season will take.
The early tests have been formidable against two of the top teams in the NHL, and the results are encouraging as a young club is excelling in new coach Bob Boughner’s fastpaced system.
Rested after a four-day layoff, the Panthers used a threegoal outburst in the second period to cool off the league’s hottest team Thursday in a 5-2 victory against the St. Louis Blues at the BB&T Center.
The Panthers’ 13 goals are the most after three games in their history (previously, 11 in 2015-16).
The Blues, who were attempting to begin a season 5-0 for the first time, are third in the latest team power rankings by NHL.com. The Tampa Bay Lightning, with whom the Panthers split the first two games, are fourth. The Panthers were not listed in the top 16.
“I like this team that we have,” said retired general Raymond Odierno, named Panthers chairman earlier in the day. “I don’t know how well we’re going to do, but I like it.
Odierno, who commanded the U.S. Army at every level during a 39-year career, added, “We’re young. We have eight players 23 or younger. I like that we have really young, skilled players that are going to take us forward. I think we can add to that.”
The kids held their own in this one as rookie defenseman Ian McCoshen, 22, scored his first NHL goal and Jared McCann, 21, recorded his second of the season during the second-period flurry.
“It’s so special. It’s a dream come true,” McCoshen said between periods.
Florida gained some separation 3:16 into the third when yet another young Panther, Aaron Ekblad, made it 4-1 with his first goal of the season on a sweet feed from Jonathan Huberdeau. Though beginning his fourth season, Ekblad is only 21.
Veteran goalie Roberto Luongo, the graybeard of the team at 38, was outstanding in his first start at home since Feb. 28 with 37 saves. He made a key save just before Ekblad’s goal on a rush by Jaden Schwartz, who got behind the defense in a bid to cut the deficit to one.
The Panthers turned it into a runaway on Nick Bjugstad’s long rush triggered by McCann’s takeaway and outlet pass in the Florida zone with 6 minutes remaining.
The Blues were playing their third game on the road in four nights, while the Panthers had been off since Saturday’s win against Tampa Bay.
For the third time in the young season, the Panthers gave up the first goal. This one didn’t come until early in the second period on a power play when Paul Stastny took a pass at the goal line to the right of the Florida net and made a quick move to score on a wrap-around past Luongo.
The Panthers immediately answered on the next shift when McCoshen took a pass from Connor Brickley and fired a long wrist shot through traffic.
The Blues had won each of their previous 14 games, dating to last season, when they scored a power-play goal. They were poised for another one with Alex Petrovic in the box.
But Vincent Trocheck turned it into the first Panthers lead of the night with their first short-handed goal of the season. Trocheck seized a turnover in the neutral zone and beat Jake Allen on the breakaway to the glove side.
The Panthers then converted on a pretty powerplay goal of their own when Radim Vrbata sent the puck toward the goal from the left point and Jared McCann, camped in the slot, tipped it past Allen for his second goal of the season and a 3-1 Panthers lead.
They took that advantage into the final frame after killing off two penalties late in the period, including a 5-on-3 St. Louis advantage for 1:03. Luongo had several key saves in the sequence.
Rookie Panthers defenseman Ian McCoshen celebrates his first goal during Florida’s 5-2 victory Thursday against the previously unbeaten St. Louis Blues.
Goalie Roberto Luongo, who was solid in goal in his first start at home in a while, keeps his eye on the puck on this first period play Thursday night.