Panthers forward Dryden Hunt jumped a little. He left the ice again, just barely. And then a third leap, bigger this time, before he turned and got a bear hug from veteran Troy Brouwer.
The occasion was Sunday’s 6-1 Panthers win over the visiting Detroit Red Wings, a game that belonged to Florida’s rookies.
Hunt and defenseman Josh Brown each got their first NHL goal, and netminder Sam Montembeault – who didn’t have a win in this league just a couple of days ago – earned his second straight victory.
“It’s exciting,” said Panthers captain Aleksander Barkov, who had one goal and one assist. “We will have a little party for them.”
Brown, 25, was Florida’s sixth-round pick in 2013, and this was his 24th NHL game.
“I have a defensive mindset, and I didn’t know if (his first goal) was going to happen this season or whenever,” said Brown, whose score gave the Panthers a 1-0 lead. “But I’m thrilled and relieved that I got it.”
Meanwhile, it was the 33rd NHL game for Hunt, 23, who signed with the Panthers in 2016 after going undrafted. He scored in the third period to give the Panthers a 5-1 lead.
“It was a sense of relief,” Hunt said. “This is my third recall (from the minors), and I’m trying to make the most of it.”
Added Brown: “I was jumping up and down when (Hunt) got his. I was thrilled for him.”
Hunt and Brown upstaged the 22-year-old Montembeault, who stopped 16 Wings shots – including a breakaway – and heard the “Monty! Monty!” chants from Panthers fans for the second straight game.
Montembeault is 2-0-1 as he gets a late-season trial for the Panthers, who are long-shots for the playoffs but have outscored their opponents 12-3 during a two-game win streak.
Brown, Hunt and Montembeault were all in the minors for long stretches of this season, and they have bonded.
“To share this with them is awesome,” Brown said. “We’ve become pretty close friends.”
Aside from the rookies, there were other notable aspects to Sunday’s game:
▪ For the first time since 2006-2007, the Panthers have two 30-goal scorers. It was Olli Jokinen (39 goals) and Nathan Horton (31) back then. It’s Mike Hoffman (31) and Barkov (30) now. Barkov leads the Panthers with 77 points.
▪ Jonathan Huberdeau, who had one goal and one assist on Sunday, has a career-best 74 points. He leads the Panthers with 52 assists.
▪ The Panthers, who never trailed, got two assists each from defensemen Aaron Ekblad and MacKenzie Weegar.
▪ Florida also got goals from Frank Vatrano, his 21st of the season, and Jamie McGinn, his third in 11 games after back surgery had knocked him out of action for most of this campaign. Still, the night belonged to the rookies, especially Brown and Hunt. “It takes a while sometimes,” Ekblad said of that elusive first NHL goal. “They did a good job sticking with it.”
THIS AND THAT
▪ The Panthers won 57 percent of the faceoffs and went 2-for-4 on their power play. The Wings went 1-for-2 with a man advantage.
▪ The Panthers trail the Columbus Blue Jackets by seven points in the battle for the final Eastern Conference wild-card spot. But Columbus has played one less game, and the Panthers would also have to climb over the Philadelphia Flyers and Montreal Canadiens to avoid missing the playoffs for the third straight year.
▪ The Panthers have 13 games remaining, including eight on the road. Next up is a tough four-game trip that starts on Thursday at the San Jose Sharks.