NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Vincent Trocheck’s legs are feeling good and the Panthers are grateful.
Trocheck and Aaron Ekblad each had a goal and an assist to lead Florida to a 4-2 win over the Nashville Predators on Saturday night.
On a breakaway, Trocheck slipped a backhander between Juuse Saros’ pads at 2:59 of the second to give Florida a 3-0 lead. After missing 27 games with a broken ankle, Trocheck has three points in the two games he has played since returning to the lineup.
“I’ve only played 20 games this year, so I have fresh legs,” Trocheck said. “I would give it up to that.”
Jared McCann and Frank Vatrano had the other goals for Florida. After snapping a seven-game losing streak with a home victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Friday night, the Panthers have won consecutive games.
Nick Bonino and Austin Watson each scored and had an assist, and Saros made 26 saves for Nashville, which has lost four of its last five.
Ekblad scored the game’s first goal at 4:05 of the opening period. With Florida on a power play, Trocheck sent a spinning backhand pass from above the right circle to Ekblad in the middle of the blue line, where he fired a one-timer high over the glove of Saros.
“Against a team like this on a back-to-back,” Ekblad said, “to get a big start like that and ultimately put the game out of reach is so important against a team that is so lethal on the back end and on the front end like they are.”
Ekblad’s goal was the 62nd of his career, moving him into first place in Florida franchise history for goals by a defenseman.
Before the goal, the Panthers’ James Reimer stopped two short-handed attempts by the Predators — first Viktor Arvidsson on a breakaway at 2:53 and then captain Roman Josi at 3:11. Reimer finished with 37 saves.
“For me, it was his best game of the year, easily,” Panthers coach Bob Boughner said. “I thought that he was seeing the puck, he was moving, he was aggressive, he was at the top of his crease, his rebound control was good. I thought he really fought hard for everything and looked good in there.”
Vatrano made it 2-0 at 13:16 of the first. On the right side, Ekblad found Vatrano, whose wrist shot tipped off of Arvidsson’s stick and over Saros’ glove.
Nashville coach Peter Laviolette said the game was lost in the early going.
“It was more the first for me more than anything,” Laviolette said. “The second, there was lots of chances. The third, we came out and pushed but then fell short going through the third period when they scored the fourth one. But for me, it was the start, the first period.”
Bonino got the Predators on the scoreboard at 2:45 of the third, tucking the puck just inside the right post after freezing Reimer with a move in the slot.
Watson drew Nashville to within a goal 38 seconds later with a nifty deflection of a shot by Bonino in the low slot, but Florida regained a two-goal lead at 11:38 on McCann’s goal off of a nice backdoor pass from Colton Sceviour.
“It’s tough, but I don’t think it was any more frustrating than the first three,” Watson said. “Playing a team that played last night, traveled. I don’t know, we dipped our toe in the water. . They brought it to us.”
NOTES: Nashville played without C Ryan Johansen, who served the first of his two-game suspension as a result of high-sticking Winnipeg’s Mark Scheifele on Thursday night. … Nashville C Colin Blackwell played his first career NHL game. … Florida had scored just one power-play goal in its last seven games. … The Panthers are 12-2-3 when leading after two periods. … Sceviour had a pair of assists.
Panthers: Host San Jose on Monday.
Predators: Visit Colorado on Monday.
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