The Panthers made a little NHL history on Thursday night when rookie center Aleksander Barkov became the youngest player to score in almost 70 years.
Barkov was the second overall pick of the Panthers in the 2013 NHL Draft and made his debut on Thursday. Barkov’s goal was big at the time, as it came with 9:28 left in the third period and tied the score at 2.
Marcel Goc scored two more after Barkov’s goal to help Florida win its season opener 4-2 over the host Dallas Stars.
Ted Kennedy was four days younger than Barkov when he scored a goal for the Maple Leafs on Jan. 8, 1944. Barkov was 18 years and 31 days old at the time of his goal.
“Isn’t that a great stat? That’s something to be incredibly proud of,” coach Kevin Dineen said. “There are a lot of stats out there, but that’s a pretty neat one. He didn’t look out of place. He went out there and established himself and played his best game in a Panthers uniform.”
Barkov has spent the past two years playing professionally in Finland and said he didn’t feel any nerves in playing in his first NHL game.
“I was just excited,” Barkov said. “I had a lot of fun.”
As is custom, the Panthers collected the puck he scored his first goal on and will have it — along with the lineup card from his first game — framed.
Barkov’s goal came on his third shot of the night; last season, Jonathan Huberdeau scored a goal on his first shot in his first NHL game. Barkov is the eighth-youngest player in NHL history to score his first NHL goal, according to research from Elias Sports Bureau.
Other Florida players to score in their first game include Stephen Weiss and Shawn Matthias.
“I’m not thinking about that; I’m just trying to concentrate on the next game,” said Barkov, who played 15:34 off 21 shifts in his opener. “I was just trying to put the puck on the net. Sometimes it goes through.”
Dineen was extremely happy with the teamwork the Panthers showed Thursday as Florida had 24 blocked shots.
“That is our overall identity,” Dineen said. “It’s something we acknowledged with our players and is something we take pride in.”
Defenseman Erik Gudbranson made the biggest block of the game when he dove to the ice and got in front of a hard slap shot from Dallas’ Brenden Dillon.
The score was tied 2-2 at the time and had that puck gone in, the Panthers could be 0-1 going into Saturday’s game in St. Louis instead of the other way around. Marcel Goc scored the first of his two goals 25 seconds after Gudbranson’s huge block.
Gudbranson, who said he took the shot in the midsection, briefly left Thursday’s game but finished it by playing on four shifts in the final seven minutes.
“I’m fine,” Gudbranson said after participating in Friday’s practice.
“Guys made the sacrifices,” Panthers goalie Tim Thomas said after the game. “If Gudbranson doesn’t block that shot, we don’t win the game.”• Defenseman Dmitry Kulikov was ejected from Thursday’s game along with Dallas’ Ryan Garbutt for starting a fight while another fight was going on.
Kulikov said Friday he didn’t know that teammate Mike Weaver was already battling Antoine Roussel at the time.
“As soon as [Thomas] got the puck, I started pulling [Garbutt] away, and I didn’t know what was going on with Weaver and the other guy,” Kulikov said. “I thought it would be a 10-minute misconduct. I didn’t know it would be the game. I felt bad leaving five [defensemen] out there.”