Panthers explode for six goals against Penguins in home opener

Aleksander Barkov, who wasn’t even born until 1995, played a starring role during a night the Panthers celebrated their 20th home opener.

10/12/2013 12:00 AM

03/14/2014 2:45 PM

Jonathan Huberdeau wasn’t even crawling when the Panthers played their first home game in 1993. Aleksander Barkov, well, who knows where he was back then. The Panthers’ newest hotshot wasn’t born until 1995.

The Panthers are glad those two were around Friday for the team’s 20th home opener. It wouldn’t have been much of a party without them.

Florida’s two youngest guns scored within 66 seconds of each other in the second period to help the Panthers snap a three-game losing streak with a 6-3 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins at BB&T Center. The Penguins had been 3-0.

“That was a great team we played against,” said the 18-year-old Barkov, whose second goal of the season gave the Panthers a two-goal lead. “It was kind of funny to see all the things from 1993.”

Said Huberdeau: “I’m following the team. It’s real nice. I think you see the potential within this organization.”

The Panthers, who celebrated highlights of the previous 19 years on their new $4.2 million scoreboard throughout the game, looked like a team that forgot all about Thursday’s nightmare in Tampa.

In fact, the Panthers looked like a completely different team. Instead of the squad which was dominated in a 7-2 loss to the cross-state rival Lightning, the Panthers came out flying and took the initial lead for just the second time this season.

The Panthers led the mighty Penguins — who now employ former Florida coach and general manager Jacques Martin as an assistant coach — for much of the night.

“We’ve been riding a roller coaster, and that’s a bad way to be in an 82-game season,” Florida coach Kevin Dineen said. “We fessed up to some of the deficiencies we’ve had, knowing we had a bullish team coming in. That’s an impressive team, and it was an entertaining game.

“It was a nice way to start the season for our fan base, to see a game with that kind of tempo. We’re happy with the result.”

Florida took a 1-0 lead less than two minutes in when Brad Boyes scored his third goal of the season after Tomas Fleischmann picked off the puck as the Penguins were trying to skate out of their own end.

The Penguins tied it off Evgeni Malkin’s goal a few minutes later before the teams again traded goals; Florida got one from Kris Versteeg at 9:10 of the first, and the Pens answered with Craig Adams at 16:49.

The second period was a fun one for the Panthers, as they took advantage of a rare (for them, at least this season) 5-on-3 power-play chance as Paul Martin and Joe Vitale took penalties not long apart.

Florida scored its first on the power play when Huberdeau knocked a loose puck past goalie Jeff Zatkoff. Just over a minute later, Barkov fired a shot toward the net, and the puck hit Martin’s leg and found its way into the net.

The Panthers had been 1 for 18 on the power play coming into Friday’s game, a big reason they had lost three of their first four.

“I’ve never scored a goal from behind the net in my life,” Barkov said. “It was a lucky goal.”

Pittsburgh saved starting goalie Marc-Andre Fleury for Saturday’s game in Tampa. Zatkoff, a rookie making his NHL debut, gave up six goals on 30 shots — including third-period goals to Fleischmann and Boyes.

Zatkoff is backing up Fleury as former Panthers goalie and current South Florida resident Tomas Vokoun recovers from blood clots.

Jacob Markstrom, making his second consecutive start since Tim Thomas tweaked his groin, made 36 saves.

“You have to play at a high level to win in this league,” Markstrom said. “It’s always nice to have a couple-goal lead. It calms me down a little bit.”

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