SUNRISE, Fla. (AP)Aleksander Barkov had a goal and an assist, Chris Driedger posted his third career shutout, and the surging Florida Panthers beat the Columbus Blue Jackets 3-0 on Sunday.
Frank Vatrano and Gustav Forsling also scored, and MacKenzie Weegar had two assists as the Panthers won their sixth straight and moved into sole possession of first place in the Central Division.
Driedger, who has earned wins in four of his last five appearances, stopped all 32 shots he faced for his second shutout of the season.
”You know what … it wasn’t as much me as the team effort,” the Panthers’ backup goaltender said. ”We were incredible defensively. I didn’t see a lot until the final push at the end there.”
Driedger has allowed only six goals in his last five starts.
”Honestly, I think our team is playing fantastic,” he said. ”It’s been a lot of fun. The guys have been locking it down defensively.”
Joonas Korpisalo had 32 saves for Columbus, which lost its fifth game to wrap up the six-game road trip.
”We’re 1-5. I don’t need to explain this,” Columbus coach John Tortorella said. ”Tonight we didn’t generate as much offense or have as much offensive zone time (as Saturday), and that certainly won’t put pucks in the back of the net.”
Vatrano’s unassisted goal — his 13th — came eight minutes into the third period to put Florida ahead 2-0, and Forsling capped the scoring at the 12:20 mark.
Playing in only their second game back from injury, Barkov and Patric Hornqvist teamed up for Florida’s first goal at 1:52 of the second period.
Hornqvist grabbed an attempted Columbus clear and fed Barkov at the top of the right circle. The Panthers’ captain ripped a one-timer that landed top shelf past Korpisalo for his 14th.
It was the second assist in two nights for Hornqvist, who missed four games prior to Saturday’s return.
Barkov, who was out six games, noted that the team’s performance remains consistent and being back with his linemates reinvigorates him.
”It feels great. You can see it in our locker room and on the ice,” he said. ”Everyone enjoys (this success) and everyone is having fun.”
Neither team generated any sustained momentum during the relatively even first and second periods that featured a 24-19 shot advantage for Florida after 40 minutes.
”We’re getting basic contributions across the board. Our back end has been really solid,” Florida coach Joel Quenneville said. ”The goaltending has been very, very consistent. Everybody has been sharing some of the responsibility of getting the job done.”
Columbus had numerous opportunities with possession through the neutral zone, but Florida disrupted the Blue Jackets’ traffic around the net and that proved decisive.
”It stings. We’re getting opportunities; we just have to put them in,” Columbus forward Nick Foligno said. ”Right now, we almost have to play a perfect style of game. We’re 1-5 right now at a time when we need to be 5-1.”
Barkov passed Olli Jokinen for the second-most even-strength goals (116) in franchise history. He trails only Jonathan Huberdeau (123) in that category.
Weegar leads all Florida defensemen in even-strength scoring with 22 points. Weegar and Hornqvist have a combined 35 assists.
Columbus’ forward Riley Nash left the game in the second period with an apparent lower-body injury. Tortorella gave no update on his condition after the game.
The game was witnessed by 4,069 fans, just slightly under the 25% capacity at the BB&T Center.
Blue Jackets: Host Tampa Bay on Tuesday night.
Panthers: At Carolina on Tuesday night.