Panthers rout Ducks behind Vrbata hat trick
SUNRISE, Fla. — The start of this season hadn’t gone the way Radim Vrbata had hoped since signing a one-year, free-agent contract with the Florida Panthers on July 1.
Eight games, no goals.
Thursday night, however, was different. Vrbata produced a hat trick and rookie first-round pick Owen Tippett scored his first NHL goal as the Florida Panthers routed the Anaheim Ducks 8-3 at the BB&T Center.
“Sometimes it works like that,” said Vrbata, who did have five assists in his first eight games. “I had some chances, some good shots earlier in the season that didn’t go in.
“Suddenly I’m having a night where it seemed like everything I touched went in. Hopefully, that’s the start of things to come.”
This was Vrbata’s seventh career hat trick, but he wasn’t Florida’s only star. Aleksander Barkov and Vincent Trocheck each had one goal and two assists, and Evgenii Dadonov scored twice.
The Panthers (4-5-0) started a five-game homestand in a promising way as Florida’s eight goals represented the most by the franchise since 2009. The Panthers are 3-1-0 at home this season.
Anaheim (4-4-1) also had a milestone as Kalle Kossila score his first NHL goal in just his third game.
But Ducks goalie John Gibson, making his ninth straight start, lasted just two periods, allowing six goals while making only 11 saves. Florida also scored twice on his backup, Reto Berra.
Andrew Cogliano, who scored Anaheim’s second goal, said the Ducks’ defense abandoned Gibson.
“Every goal we gave up was our fault,” Cogliano said. “‘Gibby’ was taking the brunt of our mistakes, turnovers and poor judgment.”
Florida’s James Reimer made his third straight start and came through with 31 saves.
Thanks in part to a strong rush by Trocheck, Florida opened the scoring with just 64 seconds elapsed in the first period. Trocheck centered the puck to Vrbata, whose shot went in off the stick of Ducks defenseman Brandon Montour.
Florida made it 2-0 less than four minutes later. Tippett seized on a turnover in the neutral zone and fed Jamie McGinn on the left wing. McGinn returned the favor and Tippett, in alone, scored at the doorstep.
“That was something I dreamed about since I was a little kid,” Tippett said of his first goal. “It was a special feeling.”
Anaheim’s fourth line cut the Ducks’ deficit to 2-1 with 6:24 expired in the first period. Logan Shaw, operating behind Florida’s net, centered a pass to Kossila, who scored five-hole.
Vrbata closed the first-period scoring with a power-play goal. Nick Bjugstad stole the puck behind Anaheim’s net and found a cutting Vrbata, who beat Gibson glove-side.
“I thought that was the biggest goal of the night,” Florida coach Bob Boughner said of the score that changed the momentum back toward the Panthers.
Florida made it 4-1 with 4:03 expired in the second. Trocheck won a faceoff to Alex Petrovic, who fired from the point. Trocheck, meanwhile, headed straight to the net, where he was in perfect position to tip the puck in off a rebound.
The Panthers made it 5-1 with work from their top line. Barkov beat his man along the right boards and dished to his left to Dadonov for the goal. The third member of the line, Jonathan Huberdeau, also got an assist.
Barkov scored seven minutes later, getting a short-handed goal. The assist came from Derek MacKenzie, whose centering pass was a few inches off the ice. No matter. Barkov banged the puck in anyway.
It was that kind of night for Anaheim.
The second period ended with a 6-1 score, and the Ducks removed Gibson, signaling the white flag of surrender. Each team scored twice in a fairly meaningless third period.
“We basically gave the game away with turnovers,” Ducks coach Randy Carlyle said. “We turned it over three times that directly led to them scoring goals. We normally don’t do that. No team can have success doing that.”
Asked what he could do with the game result, Carlyle said he would “flush” it ... before adding the following:
“It’s hard to flush. Coaches don’t flush it that easily.”
NOTES: Panthers LW Connor Brickley suffered an upper-body injury and is day to day. ... Florida G Roberto Luongo (right thumb) is out at least through Saturday. G Antti Nieme was signed this week to serve as James Reimer’s backup. ... Florida is also missing LW Jared McCann (lower body) and RW Colton Sceviour (upper body). ... This was a homecoming of sorts for Ducks D Jayson Megna, who was born in Plantation, Fla. — just minutes from the BB&T Center. ... Ducks D Kevin Bieksa will be out an extended period of time after he hurt his right hand when he delivered a one-punch knockout in his fight on Tuesday with Philadelphia Flyers D Radko Gudas. D Korbinian Holzer will replace Bieksa. ... Ducks G Ryan Miller (wrist) is taking shots in practice and could return soon. ... Ducks RW Patrick Eaves (illness) is out indefinitely. ... Ducks D Sami Vatanen (shoulder) is skating and could return soon.