Panthers remain red-hot, roll past Blue Jackets 9-2
SUNRISE, Fla. (AP) — The chant from Florida fans started in the first period, growing louder with every goal the Panthers scored.
“We want 10!”
“We want 10!”
“We want 10!”
The NHL-leading Panthers nearly complied with that rather exorbitant goal request. Carter Verhaeghe and Anton Lundell each scored twice, MacKenzie Weegar tied a career-best with four points and Florida rolled past the Columbus Blue Jackets 9-2 on Saturday night.
“Today was a special game,” Lundell said. “Again.”
These days, most of them are for the Panthers. They’re 8-0-1 since the season resumed after the Christmas break, outscoring opponents 54-24 in that stretch. Florida is 26-7-5 overall and 21-3-0 at home, both of those marks the best in the NHL.
A team with exactly one 10-goal game in franchise history — back in 1997 — has nearly gotten there twice in their last eight games. Florida beat Tampa Bay 9-3 on Dec. 30, then put nine on the scoreboard again Saturday.
“It’s fun to be part of it,” said goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, who stopped 28 shots against his former club.
Well, fun to be on the right side of it.
Columbus didn’t find it quite so enjoyable. Defenseman Zach Werenski offered this assessment: “Embarrassing,” he said.
“When their crowd starts chanting ‘We want 10’ and they’re one away, I don’t know if there’s a more embarrassing thing in hockey, to be honest with you,” Werenski said.
Aaron Ekblad had three assists for Florida. Weegar, Jonathan Huberdeau, Anthony Duclair, Sam Bennett and Ryan Lomberg all had goals for the Panthers. Lomberg had the one that made it 9-1 midway through the third, and Florida had some chances for No. 10 down the stretch.
“You can’t take offense to it. They’re just playing hockey,” Werenski said. “As a team we should be embarrassed by it, that they were even in that position.”
Elvis Merzlikins made 11 saves on 15 shots for Columbus, and Joonas Korpisalo stopped 31 of 36 shots in relief. Gustav Nyquist and Boone Jenner each scored in the third period.
Florida was coming off a 7-1 win over Dallas on Friday and wasted no time keeping the goal barrage going, going up 2-0 in the first 2:07 against Columbus and chasing Merzlikins by scoring four times in the first 13:28.
It was 4-0 after one period, 6-0 after two and the flurry never stopped.
“We’re rolling,” Panthers interim coach Andrew Brunette said. “All four lines are going, (the defense) is going. Again, it’s a tribute to the group. The joy that they’re playing with right now is contagious throughout the bench and throughout the lineup.”
Florida fans, long starved for a winner — the Panthers haven’t won a playoff series since 1996 — aren’t afraid about showing their joy these days, either.
Even if they had to settle for just nine goals.
“We know it’s not going to last forever,” Brunette said. “You want to tighten up in certain areas and I think we’ve been doing that, but you also want to let them enjoy it and have fun.”
Florida has won six consecutive home games by at least three goals, extending the longest such streak in franchise history. Boston had a six-game streak of three-goal home wins last season, but before that, the most recent one had been by Philadelphia late in the 1995-96 season.
NOTES: It was the second time Columbus has given up at least six goals in a game against Florida. The other was a 7-6 Blue Jackets overtime win on March 9, 2001. … The Panthers will finish with a winning home record for a fifth consecutive season, something the franchise has done only once before. … Weegar’s other four-point game (1-3-4) against Carolina on April 24, 2021.
Blue Jackets: Visit Philadelphia on Thursday, the first meeting between those clubs this season.
Panthers: Visit Calgary on Tuesday, the start of a five-game road trip through western Canada and the debut game in Seattle.
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