EditorsNote: rewords lede
Defenseman Zach Werenski scored his first career hat trick, and goalie Elvis Merzlikins earned his first NHL win, leading the host Columbus Blue Jackets to a 4-1 victory over the Florida Panthers on Tuesday night.
Columbus is 7-0-4 in its past 11 games.
Werenski has 11 goals, giving him double-figure tallies in all four of his NHL seasons. He is just the third defenseman in Columbus history to post a hat trick, joining Deron Quint (March 2001) and Bryan Berard (January 2006).
Center Boone Jenner added one goal and one assist to lead the Blue Jackets past Florida’s Sergei Bobrovsky, who had been their goalie the past seven years.
Columbus was without All-Star goalie Joonas Korpisalo, who was injured during a Sunday loss to the Chicago Blackhawks and is expected to miss four to six weeks.
But Merzlikins, a 25-year-old rookie from Latvia, made 36 saves to improve to 1-4-3. The only goal he allowed was on a deflection by Colton Sceviour in the second period.
Bobrovsky, who made 24 saves, left Columbus as a free agent and signed a seven-year, $70 million contract with Florida in July. There were some boos early on Tuesday, but after the Blue Jackets played a video tribute to Bobrovsky during the first TV timeout, he received a standing ovation.
The win came at a cost for the Blue Jackets as forward Alexandre Texier sustained an upper-body injury. Columbus already was without injured forwards Cam Atkinson, Oliver Bjorkstrand, Josh Anderson, Emil Bemstrom and Brandon Dubinsky.
Columbus opened the scoring with 4:54 expired in the first period. Alexander Wennberg got the puck to Werenski, who hammered a slap shot past Bobrovsky’s glove.
Florida, using a fourth line comprised of Sceviour, Dominic Toninato and defenseman-turned-forward Mark Pysyk, tied the score 1-1 with that unit on the ice, 3:39 into the second. Defenseman Anton Stralman’s shot from the point was tipped in by Sceviour.
After an interference call on Toninato, Columbus’ power play cashed in with 15:34 gone in the second. Jenner picked up a loose puck that had caromed off the left skate of Panthers defenseman Mike Matheson. Jenner held the puck for a second until the right side opened up, giving Columbus a 2-1 lead.
Werenski then added two goals in less than a four-minute span in the third. His second goal was disputed by the Panthers, who claimed goalie interference by Nick Foligno. However, Foligno was pushed into Bobrovsky by Panthers defenseman Aaron Ekblad, and the goal stood.
—Field Level Media