SUNRISE, Fla. — 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.
In his first game back after a six-game absence, Panthers’ No. 1 centre Aleksander Barkov tallied the primary assist on Weegar’s goal.
Florida honoured 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.
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.
Signed as a free agent after playing six seasons in Columbus, Wennberg 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.
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.
After Werenski scored, Wennberg complete the hat trick into an empty-net for his 11th with 7 seconds left.
SIGNED … AND PLAYING
The Panthers signed defenceman Matt Kiersted out of the University of North Dakota on Thursday and put him on the ice Saturday.
Kiersted, 22, was one of seven defencemen 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.
Blue Jackets coach John 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.
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.
Bill Whitehead, The Associated Press