Chemsitry experiment pays off for Florida Panthers


The line of Aleksander Barkov, Sean Bergenheim and Brad Boyes has become the Panthers’ top offensive threat.

Florida Panthers left wing Sean Bergenheim (20) celebrates with teammate Aleksander Barkov (16) after scoring a goal during the third period of an NHL hockey game against the Montreal Canadiens in Sunrise, Fla., Sunday, Dec. 29, 2013.
Florida Panthers left wing Sean Bergenheim (20) celebrates with teammate Aleksander Barkov (16) after scoring a goal during the third period of an NHL hockey game against the Montreal Canadiens in Sunrise, Fla., Sunday, Dec. 29, 2013.
Terry Renna / AP

Thursday: Panthers at Sabres

When/where: 7 p.m.; First Niagara Center, Buffalo, N.Y.

TV/radio: FSNF; WQAM 560.

The series: Buffalo leads 34-28-4.

The game: The Sabres are last in the Atlantic Division, 10 points back of Florida, but beat the Panthers 3-1 in Sunrise earlier this season. Buffalo's game Tuesday against Carolina was postponed because of a blizzard — the first weather-related postponement for the Sabres since 2000.

Special to the Miami Herald

Panthers coach Peter Horachek was experimenting when he put his top line together. What he wound up with was a pretty potent offensive combination.

The trio of rookie Aleksander Barkov, fellow Finn Sean Bergenheim and Brad Boyes have been pacing the Panthers’ offense of late, accounting for 15 of the team’s 29 goals scored in regulation since Dec. 10.

“It’s hard to tell what makes a line go. The chemistry is there and I think they feed off each other pretty well,” Horachek said Wednesday after his team’s on-ice session at the Montreal Canadiens’ suburban practice facility.

“They’re all different kinds of players. Bergenheim plays, as I like to refer to him, as a bull in a china shop; he just kind of barrels in there. Boyesie’s really smart and knows where to go to get into those areas, and certainly Barkov has an uncanny ability. He’s a great young player that sees the ice really well. He can play the give-and-go game and he’s a big body.

“That line just seems to have chemistry. Sometimes you don’t know; you expect the line to work and it doesn’t. But this line is certainly working.”

The unit provided the lone goal in Monday’s loss to Montreal, with Bergenheim netting his 10th of the season. Boyes and Barkov picked up the assists on the tally. The helper allowed Barkov to extend his points streak to six games (one goal, six assists in that span) to tie a Panthers rookie record set by Radek Dvorak in November 1995.

Of the last 13 goals the team has scored in regulation, nine have come from its top line.

“I think it’s a mix of good players,” said Bergenheim. “Barkov, in the last month and a half, has taken a big step towards being a force in this league. It’s great to play with him. Boyes is a really nifty player. He sees the ice really well. And we work hard, too.

“On top of that, we really work on our game. We talk a lot, we have our set plays and we know where we are on the ice. That’s huge for us in the offensive zone.”

For Barkov, it’s been a seamless fit.

“Bergie is a Finnish guy, so I can speak to him in my own language. I’ve played with Boyesie all year and we know each other very well, so it’s easy to play with them,” he said.

Horachek didn’t know what to expect when he first formed the line, dubbed by some as the “Killer Bs.” And while the goals didn’t start pouring out off the hop, he liked what he saw and opted not to tinker.

“We didn’t score [a lot] the first five games or so … but we had a lot of chances,” Bergenheim noted. “Some coaches would split a line up, but they stayed patient and they saw that it was coming. It was great that they saw that and let us stay together because there really was chemistry right away.”

That chemistry and the consistent production that followed has been key for a Panthers club averaging just 2.26 goals per game, tied with the Calgary Flames for second-lowest in the NHL heading into Wednesday’s games.

An impressive rookie campaign for Barkov took another positive turn when it was announced on Tuesday that he had been named to Finland’s Olympics team.

He’ll be 18 years 5 months 5 days old when Finland plays its first game, making him the youngest Finnish hockey player ever to suit up for the country at the Winter Games.

Among the experiences the youngster will take in will be the opportunity to spend time with Finnish teammate Teemu Selanne.

“He’s a legend,” he said. “It’ll be my first time meeting him so I don’t know what to expect.”

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