Florida Panthers

Mike Hoffman’s hat trick leads ‘no more excuses’ Florida Panthers to win in home opener

Florida Panthers left wing Mike Hoffman (68) celebrates his second goal during the second period of the Panthers home opener NHL regular season hockey game against the Tampa Bay Lightning at the BB&T Center on Saturday, October 5, 2019 in Sunrise.
Florida Panthers left wing Mike Hoffman (68) celebrates his second goal during the second period of the Panthers home opener NHL regular season hockey game against the Tampa Bay Lightning at the BB&T Center on Saturday, October 5, 2019 in Sunrise. dsantiago@miamiherald.com

The pre-game message could not have been clearer as a minute-long video montage flashed on the scoreboard above center ice Saturday ahead of the Florida Panthers’ home opener against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

A nearly full BB&T Center received a crash course on the Panthers’ busy offseason.

Coach Joel Quenneville’s hire. The new coach’s message to his new players to feel the sting of missing the playoffs yet again — and a stern reminder that it shouldn’t happen again. The Panthers’ offseason signings, headlined by goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky. The Panthers’ big picture unfolding.

And then, nine words stamped on a black background.

“No more excuses. We’re not going to need them.”

Well, if the Panthers play like they did on Saturday, excuses won’t be necessary.

Mike Hoffman recorded a hat trick — including two power-play goals as part of a three-goal second period — to lift the Panthers to a 4-3 win over the Lightning for the first win of the Quenneville era.

The win also avenges Thursday’s 5-2 season-opening loss to the Lightning in Tampa and snaps a seven-game winless streak against their in-state rival that dated back to the 2017 season.

Rats and hats trickled onto the ice 17 seconds into the third period after Hoffman scored his third goal of the night, a quick strike that sent the announced BB&T Center crowd of 17,424 into a frenzy. It was Hoffman’s second career hat trick, the first coming back in 2016 when he was with the Ottawa Senators.

“We wanted to come out and have a strong presence on our home ice,” Hoffman said. “The fans were into the game right from the start. It was a fun building to play in, and we wanted to put on a good performance for them. Throughout the whole lineup, everyone was there ready to go.”

But a sloppy third period — one in which the Lightning scored twice and had their share of chances to tie it in the final minute — made the win too close for comfort.

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Florida Panthers goalie Sergei Bobrovsky (72) go for the puck as he defends the goal against Tampa Bay Lightning center Yanni Gourde (37) and center Carter Verhaeghe (23) during the third period of the Panthers home opener NHL regular season hockey game at the BB&T Center on Saturday, October 5, 2019 in Sunrise. DAVID SANTIAGO dsantiago@miamiherald.com

Bobrovsky, the two-time Vezina Trophy winner who signed a 7-year, $70 million deal with the Panthers this offseason, saved a flurry right in front of the net over the final 10 seconds, falling on the puck with 0.6 seconds left to force a final faceoff that sealed the win.

“I just tried to find the puck and stop the puck,” said Bobrovsky, who saved 32 of 35 shots that came his way. “I didn’t think much. It’s all instinct. We all know the score. ... We have to get it done.”

Hoffman certainly got it done, too, with his first two second-period goals giving the Panthers the momentum after a scoreless opening period.

Hoffman’s power play goals came 1 minute and 26 seconds apart midway through the second period and had nearly identical setups. Jonathan Huberdeau fed his fellow forward a pass across the ice. Hoffman’s strikes from the right circle made it over the shoulder of reigning Vezina Trophy winner Andrei Vasilevskiy to give the Panthers (1-1-0) the lead.

“Our power play was nice to get going,” Hoffman said. “Obviously last game wasn’t up to our standards [0 for 4]. Huberdeau made some great passes over to me, and it’s on myself to put those in the net.

“Tonight, everything seemed to be working.”

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Florida Panthers left wing Mike Hoffman (68) celebrate with teammate defenseman Keith Yandle (3) after scoring his second goal during the second period of the Panthers home opener NHL regular season hockey game against the Tampa Bay Lightning at the BB&T Center on Saturday, October 5, 2019 in Sunrise. DAVID SANTIAGO dsantiago@miamiherald.com

Defenseman Keith Yandle earned the secondary assist on both goals.

Hoffman now has four goals through two games after leading the Panthers with 36 last season.

Noel Acciari, one of the Panthers’ offseason acquisitions, added the third goal in the period about a minute later.

Gemel Smith, Steven Stamkos and Mathieu Joseph scored goals for the Lightning (1-1-0).

“We had some really good stretches in the game,” Quenneville said. “I thought we had some good possessions at times. I thought at the end, it was a good lesson to have some composure in that situation.”

The Panthers return to the BB&T Center on Tuesday to face the Carolina Hurricanes.

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Jordan McPherson covers the Miami Marlins and high school sports for the Miami Herald. He attended the University of Florida and covered the Gators athletic program for five years before joining the Herald staff in December 2017.
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