SUNRISE – Matthew Tkachuk, Aleksander Barkov and Carter Verhaeghe each had a goal and an assist, and the Florida Panthers defeated the Carolina Hurricanes 5-2 on Friday night in a rematch of last season’s Eastern Conference finals .
Sergei Bobrovsky stopped 28 shots en route to winning his fourth straight start. Rookie Uvis Balinskis had his first NHL goal for Florida, and Kevin Stenlund added an empty-net goal with 3:42 left for the Panthers.
Sam Reinhart had two assists for Florida.
Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Sebastian Aho scored for the Hurricanes. Antti Raanta made 29 saves for Carolina, which had won five of its last six games.
But lately, Panthers-Hurricanes games always seem to favor Florida. Carolina won 11 of 13 meetings between the teams, one of them in a shootout, between November 23, 2018 and April 22, 2021. Florida has won 10 of the 12 games between the clubs since then, including four in last season’s playoffs. .
Kotkaniemi opened the scoring at the 1:20 mark with a quick goal. Tkachuk tied it less than 3 minutes later and the Panthers never trailed again. Balinskis took a pass from Tkachuk and scored for a 2-1 lead late in the first.
Florida was 3-2 after two, with Barkov scoring off a rebound and Carolina again got within a goal when Aho scored late in that period.
But the third was all Florida with Verhaeghe scoring on a redirect to restore the two-goal lead and Stenlund getting the empty-net goal.
Florida returned injured forward Sam Bennett, although his return is evidently looming.
Bennett will have “a hard, full practice” on Saturday, Panthers coach Paul Maurice said, and then a decision on his return will be made. It could be as soon as Sunday’s home game against Chicago, although Maurice cautioned that might be optimistic.
“I think it’s pretty close,” Maurice said.
Also potentially returning for the Panthers in the next 10 days or so: defenseman Brandon Montour, who hasn’t played since the Stanley Cup Final due to shoulder surgery. He and fellow defenseman Aaron Ekblad, also out recovering from shoulder surgery, were originally scheduled to miss games until potentially December, although Montour is a little ahead of that pace. Still, Florida will be cautious.
“We’re not going to spend five months on this to bring it back a day early,” Maurice said.
UNTIL NEXT TIME
Panthers: Host Chicago on Sunday afternoon.