SUNRISE, Fla. — Matthew Tkachuk, Aleksander Barkov and Carter Verhaeghe each had a goal and an assist, and the Florida Panthers topped the Carolina Hurricanes 5-2 on Friday night in a rematch of last season’s Eastern Conference finals.
Sergei Bobrovsky stopped 28 shots on the way to winning his fourth consecutive start. Rookie Uvis Balinskis got his first NHL goal for Florida, and Kevin Stenlund added an empty-netter with 3:42 left for the Panthers.
Sam Reinhart had two assists for Florida.
“We know what to do on the ice right now and we know how to play the right way,” Barkov said. “If we do that, we will always get a chance to win and obviously (Bobrovsky) has been giving us a chance to win every night.”
Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Sebastian Aho scored for the Hurricanes, and Jordan Martinook assisted on both goals. Antti Raanta made 30 saves for Carolina, which had won five of its last six games.
But of late, Panthers-Hurricanes games always seem to go Florida’s way. Carolina won 11 of 13 meetings between the teams, one of those in a shootout, between Nov. 23, 2018, and April 22, 2021. Florida has won 10 of the 12 games between the clubs since, including all four in last season’s playoffs.
“They were good, we were bad. That combination is not good,” Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said. “We have to give them credit. They played exactly how they wanted to and we never, ever got anything going.”
Kotkaniemi opened the scoring 1:20 in with a quick goal off the rush. Tkachuk tied it less than 3 minutes later, and the Panthers never trailed again. Balinskis took a pass from Tkachuk and scored for a 2-1 lead late in the first.
“He’s done everything he possibly can to stay in the lineup and he earned it,” Panthers coach Paul Maurice said of Balinskis, the Latvian rookie. “He comes over here, completely different league, doesn’t know anybody, training camp is really difficult and then he earned his spot in the lineup.”
It was 3-2 Florida after two, with Barkov scoring off a rebound and Carolina getting within a goal again when Aho scored late in that period.
But the third was all Florida with Verhaeghe scoring on a redirect to restore the two-goal edge and Stenlund getting the empty-netter.
Florida was again without injured forward Sam Bennett, though his return is evidently looming.
Bennett will get “a full, hard practice” on Saturday, Maurice said, and then a decision will be made on his return. It could be as early as Sunday’s home game with Chicago, though Maurice cautioned that may be optimistic.
“I think he’s fairly close,” Maurice said.
Also potentially back for the Panthers in the next 10 days or so: defenseman Brandon Montour, who hasn’t played since the Stanley Cup Final because of shoulder surgery. He and fellow defenseman Aaron Ekblad — also out for shoulder surgery recovery — were originally slotted to miss games until potentially December, though Montour is a bit ahead of that pace. Still, Florida will be cautious.
“We’re not putting five months into this to bring him back a day early,” Maurice said.
Hurricanes: Visit Tampa Bay on Saturday night.
Panthers: Host Chicago on Sunday afternoon.
AP NHL: https://apnews.com/hub/nhl