BY SCOTT MORGANROTH
Before the Florida Panthers stepped onto the ice on Easter Sunday, they had help from the Detroit Red Wings.
Detroit snapped a 17-game regular season losing streak that dated back to February 17, 2011 hammering the Tampa Bay Lightning 5-1.
Entering the day, the two state rivals were atop of the NHL Central Division with 54 points.
Going into Sunday’s game versus the Columbus Blue Jackets, Florida had a five-game winning streak. The Panthers have overcome injuries, and knock on wood, have done a nice job following COVID-19 protocols to stay on a normal schedule.
Sergei Bobrovsky should get consideration for the Vezina Trophy which is awarded annually to the best goaltender.
At the end of the season, 31 NHL general managers vote to determine the winner.
Bobrovsky’s record is 15-5-2 with a 2.79 goals against average.
Championship teams have great goaltending tandems and Florida’s backup Chris Driedger is as good as they come. In his last five starts, he has allowed only six goals.
On Sunday, Driedger posted his third career shutout as the Panthers defeated the Columbus Blue Jackets 3-0. He has earned wins in four of his last five appearances stopping all 32 shots he faced for his second shutout of the season.
For the second straight night, the Panthers and Blue Jackets were tied at the end of the first period.
In the second period, Aleksander Barkov scored at the 1:52 mark with assists coming from MacKenzie Weegar and Patric Hornqvist to give the Panthers a 1-0 lead.
Barkov had two points on the night and his goal was his 116th career even-strength goal, surpassing Olli Jokinen (115) for second most even strength goals in franchise history.
The Panthers added two goals in the third period to take a 3-0 lead.
The goals came from Frank Vatrano and Gustav Forsling. Vatrano’s goal was his 13th of the season. Weegar had two assists on the night, his fifth multi-point game of the season.
But without a doubt, the story of the night was the performance of Driedger, who was the No.1 Star of the contest.
Driedger improved his record to 11-4-2 and has a 2.05 goals against average.
After the game, he downplayed his performance and had high praise for his teammates.
“We were incredible defensively. In the first two periods we really locked things down. I didn’t see a whole lot until the final push at the end there. Shout out to the guys, Forsy (defenseman Gustav Forsling) and Weegs (defenseman MacKenzie Weegar) rock solid back there.
“Getting those goals in the third is always huge, it gives us more confidence. Makes me smile because I know we’re likely coming away with the (win), so great job.
“Honestly, I think our team is playing fantastic. I try and just do the same stuff every game. Tonight, for instance I felt good. It’s been good, the guys have been locking it down defensively.”
Quenneville said the key to the Panthers success is the team is just having a lot of fun.
“I think the more fun you have is when you work hard. The harder you work, the more fun you have. I think playing the right way is basically a result of working hard.
“I think we’re getting basic contributions across the board. Our back end’s been real solid, goaltending’s been very consistent. Whether they’re making big saves, just stopping everything they’re supposed to, and enhanced saves on top of that as well.
“It’s not just one guy, everyone is sharing the responsibility of getting the job done.”
With the win, the Panthers leaped past the Lightning for first place with a 26-9-4 record and 56 points. They now have a season long win streak at six games.
In addition, Florida is the No.1 team overall in the NHL.
The Colorado Avalanche (25-8-4, 54 points) and Lightning (26-10-2, 54 points) are ranked second and third. The Washington Capitals are fourth with a 25-9-4 record with 54 points.
Florida’s next opponent the Carolina Hurricanes are fifth in the league overall with a 25-9-3 mark with 53 points.
These two teams begin a two game series on Tuesday Night at 7 pm in Raleigh, NC.
Florida has a tough road ahead down the stretch as they travel to play six road games against division playoff contenders.
It begins with the Hurricanes, the Dallas Stars and concludes with the Lightning.
They know they have a lot of work to do before returning home to face then Columbus Blue Jackets on Monday, April 19, 2021 at 7 pm at the BB&T Center.
Scott Morganroth can be reached at email@example.com. You can follow him on Twitter @TribuneSouth.
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