As much fun as the Florida Panthers had Saturday night — they were scoring goals, getting into fights, playing in front of a packed house — it sure felt like a tease.
The Panthers showed a little of ‘what could have been’ in Saturday night’s 7-0 romp of the powerhouse Chicago Blackhawks in which patrons at BB&T Center were able to donate their ballcaps to celebrate Jonathan Marchessault’s hat trick.
Florida, which will almost certainly miss the postseason, had one heck of a party on Saturday as they smacked the Blackhawks around an arena populated by many wearing Chicago’s black-and-red.
“When we play the right way, keep things simple and use our legs, that’s exactly what we’re capable of doing,” said Tom Rowe, who lost his first game as NHL coach in a shootout in Chicago two days after replacing Gerard Gallant behind the Florida bench.
“We talked about this being a big game for us to kind of judge where we are and what we can do.
“The team, owners, fans, everybody needed a feel-good day. We said let’s take it one at a time and see what happens.”
The downer from Saturday’s soiree was Jaromir Jagr leaving after getting steamrolled by Richard Panik’s hip check.
Jagr didn’t come out for the third period with what the team is calling a lower body issue. Rowe said Jagr will likely travel with the team Sunday but is questionable for Monday’s game in Buffalo.
After a scoreless first, one in which former Florida defenseman Brian Campbell was saluted for his five seasons in South Florida, the Panthers jumped all over Chicago with Sasha Barkov slamming a Jonathan Huberdeau pass past Corey Crawford 17 seconds into the period.
There would be plenty more goals to come.
Huberdeau made it 2-0 midway through the second with Marchessault getting hist first of the night at 11:40 of the period.
The real onslaught came in the third with Marchessault — who now has 28 goals on a thrift store valued contract — scoring twice within about a two-minute span to blow things open.
Chicago’s Joel Quenneville pulled Crawford after Marchessault made it 4-0 as Scott Darling came in and failed to slow Florida’s scoring train down.
Marchessault became the second Florida player to get the hat trick this season joining Colton Sceviour. Incidentally, Sceviour and Marchessault both signed identical two-year deals worth $750,000 per season around the same time on the first day of free agency.
“It was probably the best game of the year,” Marchessault said.
“I think everybody should be feeling good right now. That’s not just any team on the other side that we just beat. It was an amazing game tonight for everyone.
“It’s been a roller coaster, up and down all year. I think last game we played good and this game we played good. Hopefully we can get help a little bit on the other side with the other teams. On our side the only thing we can do is win some hockey games.”
Up 5-0 after a few dozen caps hit the ice, the Panthers kept things going with Nick Bjugstad scoring his first in a month at 7:53 of the third.
Reilly Smith then made it a seven-goal affair to tie Florida’s season-high when he banged home a Vincent Trocheck rebound.
“I was joking with someone that that was probably a bit excessive for the sixth goal, but at this point in the season, and for myself, that was instinct,” Bjugstad said.
“Just thank God, basically. I had a lot of shots tonight and it finally went in. Yeah, I’ll take it.”
The Panthers embark on a four-game road trip Sunday with their first game Monday in Buffalo followed by divisional games in Toronto (Tuesday), Montreal (Thursday) and Boston (Saturday) in what should have been an important week in the Panthers’ run to the playoffs.
Instead, the Panthers will continue to ask ‘what could have been?’