SUNRISE, Fla. (AP)Alex Wennberg had his first career hat trick as the Florida Panthers beat the Columbus Blue Jackets 5-2 on Saturday night.
MacKenzie Weegar and Frank Vatrano each had a goal and an assist, and Sergei Bobrovsky stopped 44 shots to help the Panthers win their season-high fifth straight.
Signed as a free agent after playing six seasons with the Blue Jackets, Wennberg said he was amped to be back in Columbus,
”I mean, it’s always a little bit special to play against them,” the second-line center said. ”It was one of those games right now you’re excited for this game and just the way it played.
Panthers coach Joel Quenneville was also pleased with Wennberg’s play.
”He had a heck of a game, did a lot of good things besides scoring three,” Quenneville said. ”We’re happy with his game. He’s adding some speed to his game as well.”
Florida honored Bobrovsky for his 500th NHL game – played Feb. 10, 2020, in Philadelphia – in a pregame ceremony, and the Russian goalie improved to 5-1-1 against his former club.
In his first game back after a six-game absence, Panthers’ No. 1 center Aleksander Barkov tallied the primary assist on Weegar’s goal.
Oliver Bjorkstrand and Zach Werenski scored for Columbus. Elvis Merzlikins made 22 saves through two periods but was replaced by Joonas Korpisalo, who stopped 12 shots in the third.
After a scoreless first period, Barkov found himself right in the middle of a hard-working cycle in the second and sent a slick pass through the slot to Weegar at 3:57.
Wennberg, who had Thursday’s overtime winner against Detroit, scored 52 seconds later by finishing a 2-on-1 pass from Vatrano.
Then he added his second of the night from the left circle at 8:47 for a 3-0 lead.
”Right now it’s kind of working my way a little bit,” Wennberg said.
In the third, Bjorkstrand’s putback cut it to 3-1 at 2:46, but Vatrano regained the three-goal margin at 10:54 with a rebound tally on Owen Tippett’s breakaway.
”We just give too much for free,” Columbus coach John Tortorella said. ”For a team that struggles to score, you can’t give up (two) free ones – really three free ones. We had control of the puck on their fourth goal, the breakaway. We turn it over there.”
After Werenski scored, Wennberg complete the hat trick into an empty-net for his 11th with 7 seconds left.
”Wenny’s a good player,” Tortorella added. ”I wish him the best. I hope he doesn’t score tomorrow. I hope he (plays bad) against us, but I wish him the best otherwise.”
SIGNED . AND PLAYING
The Panthers signed defenseman Matt Kiersted out of the University of North Dakota on Thursday and put him on the ice Saturday.
Kiersted, 22, was one of seven defensemen in the lineup as coach Joel Quenneville opted to use just 11 forwards. The lefty shot logged 12:47of ice time and blocked a team-high four shots in his NHL debut.
Tortorella has openly criticized the play of Jack Roslovic – acquired from Winnipeg with Patrik Laine on Jan. 23 – over the past few games and decided to make the Columbus native a healthy scratch in the team’s first game in South Florida.
Roslovic, 24, has six goals and 16 assists in 31 games for his hometown club.
”Coach’s decision,” Tortorella said. ”I’m not going to get into an explanation. My decision.”
The Panthers made a trade Friday afternoon, sending forward Vinnie Hinostroza to his hometown Chicago Blackhawks in exchange for minor-league forward Brad Morrison.
A native of the western Chicago suburb of Bartlett, the 27-year-old Hinostroza failed to register a point in nine games in his first season with the Panthers, primarily skating on the fourth line.
Morrison, 24, has appeared in nine total games in stints in the AHL and ECHL this season.
In their 20th home game this season, the Panthers had 4,375 fans in attendance.
The two clubs will conclude their two-game set on Sunday.