Carter Verhaeghe had the go-ahead goal and an assist, and Aleksander Barkov also scored as the Florida Panthers remained unbeaten in regulation with a 2-1 win over the Nashville Predators on Friday night.
The victory pushed the Panthers record to 6-0-2.
Chris Drieger, who improved to 3-0-1, held off a torrid Nashville effort to tie the game following a slashing penalty to Aaron Ekblad with nine seconds remaining. Florida’s backup netminder turned back 24 shots.
“I’m trying to just approach everything, every game the same way,” said Drieger, who stopped a breakaway shot in the closing moments. “I’ve kind of gotten my routine down and I’m kind of doing the same stuff and just making sure I’m staying in the same mindset ... I want to stay mentally focused.”
After Barkov provided the equalizer with his fourth goal off a perfect cross-ice feed from Verhaeghe six minutes into the second period, the two worked their magic again at the 15:31 mark. This time, it was Verhaeghe finding the back of the net after receiving a pass from the Panthers’ captain.
Owen Tippett’s assist on Barkov’s goal was his first in the NHL.
It was Verhaeghe’s team-leading sixth goal in eight games, while Barkov has recorded 11 points, including seven points in his last four games.
“We’re working hard,” said Verhaeghe, who is making the most of his opportunity after coming over from Tampa Bay. “It’s kind of nice, this whole team too, we’re clicking. It’s awesome. And the chemistry with me and Barky, too. He’s a great player.”
Colton Sissons had the lone goal for the Predators, who split the two-game series. Pekka Rinne had 34 saves for Nashville as the Panthers tied their season high with 36 shots on goal.
“I think we had a decent first period, but as the game went along I don’t think we were happy with the second period,” Rinne said. “We gave a push again in the third and even in the dying seconds. It’s disappointing, for sure.”
Despite a season-high 20 shots in the first period, the Panthers were outworked early in their own zone and it proved costly. At the 4:04 mark, Sissons put the Predators ahead with his second goal this season.
Sissons’ shot that trickled past the stick side of Drieger was one of only four in that period for Nashville, which withstood two aggressive Florida power plays resulting in 10 of the 20 shots that frame.
“We had some lulls in periods ... it’s hard to keep momentum when you’re doing that all the time,” Sissons said.
SURGE AFTER A SLOW START
The Predators applied plenty of pressure at the outset and set the tempo before Florida took charge with high-percentage chances in their offensive zone.
“I thought we played a hard game throughout," Florida coach Joel Quenneville said. “I thought Driedger was fine (and) I thought our team game defensively was really good. We played real smart. A hard-fought win.”
Each team had nine shots in the second period, but it was the Panthers’ tenacious attack by its top line and winning puck battles in the neutral zone that made the difference.
INCONSISTENT PLAY A CONCERN
Nashville coach John Hynes expressed disappointment over his team’s inability to establish consistent play over its first 11 games.
“It’s the inconsistency within our game, but it’s also the erraticness within some performances,” he said. “The inconsistencies need to stop and they need to stop in a hurry. We weren’t good enough; we didn’t have enough juice.”
Hynes praised Florida’s overall performance.
“They played better for the majority of the game,” he continued. “They were tighter, faster and more consistent. They were better for most of the night.”
Seven of the Panthers’ eight games this season have been decided by one goal
Predators: Host the Tampa Bay Lightning in a two-game set on Monday and Tuesday.
Panthers: Host Detroit Red Wings for two games, Sunday and Tuesday.
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