Vrbata’s hat-trick leads Panthers past Ducks

Image courtesy of @turbuL3NT2 / COTP Photography

Radim Vrbata notched his seventh career hat-trick en route to a 8-3 Panthers win over the Anaheim Ducks to kick off a five-game homestand at the BB&T Center on Thursday night. 

The blowout victory came two nights after one of the many early-season lulls for the Panthers, a 5-1 loss to the Canadiens that included three goals against in less than 2 minutes.

Looking to continue their strong play at home, the Panthers came out firing against the Ducks.

For the first time this season, the Panthers scored three goals in the first period, and one of them came off the stick of 18-year old Owen Tippett, the 10th-overall pick at the 2017 Draft.

The Peterborough, Ontario native, playing in his fourth NHL game, picked up a turnover in the neutral zone and passed the puck off to a speeding Jamie McGinn on the left wing. McGinn fed a cross-ice pass to Tippett who tapped the puck past goaltender John Gibson for his first career goal.

Tippett scored 44 goals in 60 regular season games last season with the OHL’s Mississauga Steelheads, so he’s no stranger to seeing the puck in the back of the net.

With 7 shots on goal and 12 attempted shots in his league debut against the Flyers a week-and-a-half ago, he’s already had plenty of chances to score, but he’s not complaining.

“It’s a pretty special feeling to get my first NHL goal,” said Tippett. “Being a young guy you’ve got to do whatever it takes to stay in the lineup, so every game you get in you get a little more comfortable.”

Tippett’s marker came just three minutes and 19 seconds after Radim Vrbata opened the scoring a minute into the first period.

He picked up his own rebound at the top of the Ducks’ crease and fired it past Gibson for his first goal as a Panther.

It was the first of three goals on six total shots on the night for Vrbata, whose hat-trick was his first in nearly two years.

“You always want to start the season on a good note, score early and get it out of the way,” said Vrbata, who notched his most recent three-goal game on December 12, 2015 against the Sabres.

“It took a couple games. I thought I had some chances, some good opportunities in those previous games, but sometimes that’s the way it goes. Then you have a game like this where everything you touch seems to go in.”

The 36-year old veteran of 1,024 NHL games earned his second and third goals of the night from almost the exam same spot as his first two.

Nick Bjugstad fed him a pass from below the goal line, which he put top shelf, and in the third period, he took a loose puck in the low slot and patiently curled it around a sprawled out Gibson, giving the Panthers a 7-2 lead.

The Panthers’ top line of Jonathan Huberdeau, Aleksander Barkov, and Evgenii Dadonov connected twice on the night, with Dadonov twice being the beneficiary of incredible set-ups by Barkov.

Barkov notched a goal of his own, his second shorthanded marker in the last three games, on a 2-on-1 backhanded feed by Derek MacKenzie with less than five minutes remaining in the middle frame.

Vincent Trocheck added his team-leading fourth goal of the season early in the second period.

After allowing two power play goals on Tuesday to the Canadiens that ended up being the daggers, the Panthers managed to keep the Ducks’, who entered with the league’s worst power play percentage, quiet on the man-advantage.

“I think our pressure points were a little better tonight,” said head coach Bob Boughner of the penalty kill. “I thought that when one guy pressured, we all pressured and that’s the difference. We applied a little bit more pressure up ice as well, and not letting teams come in on a clean entry.”

Not only was the penalty kill better, but the Panthers’ overall effort in the second period was improved.

They allowed zero goals against in the period for the first time this season while scoring three goals of their own.

Part of that was thanks to James Reimer, who stopped 31 of 34 shots faced.

And as a whole, it was the eighth time in franchise history that the Panthers score 8 goals or more, the last time coming on January 10th, 2009 in an 8-4 win over the now-defunct Atlanta Thrashers.

“That’s what we talked about, taking advantage of this homestand that we have,” said Boughner. “We’ve had a pretty tough schedule in October, but we want to make sure that when we get into November we get over that .500 mark and start climbing a little bit.”

The Panthers are back in action on Friday at home against the Detroit Red Wings.

Game notes:

  • Mackenzie Weegar and Colton Sceviour (upper body) were scratched from the lineup while Roberto Luongo (right hand) and Jared McCann (lower body) remain on the injured reserve. Luongo practiced lightly on Thursday morning with goalie coach Rob Tallas.
  • Alex Petrovic returned to the lineup after sitting out the last two games as a healthy scratch. He logged 15:07 of ice time while paired with Mike Matheson and recorded an assist on Trocheck’s second period goal.
  • Connor Brickley left the game after what appeared to be a knee-on-knee hit with Derek Grant in the 3rd period. Head coach Bob Boughner called it an upper-body injury, but Brickley crawled to the bench and needed help from trainers to walk into the locker room. He is said to be day-to-day and did not return to the game.
  • Aleksander Barkov recorded three points, including a goal and two primary assists, while finishing with a 59-percent success rate in the faceoff circle. He took a cross-check to the neck by Josh Manson in the 1st period and needed help getting up, but never left the game.
  • Former Panther Logan Shaw set up Kalle Kossila for his first NHL goal in the first period and then scored one of his own in the third period.
  • Former Panther Reto Berra took over for John Gibson in net for the Ducks at the start of the 3rd period.

(Click above for a visual recap of the game.)

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