SUNRISE, Fla. (AP) – Alex Wennberg had his first hat-trick of his career when the Florida Panthers defeated the Columbus Blue Jackets 5-2 on Saturday night.
MacKenzie Weegar and Frank Vatrano each had a goal and an assist, and Sergei Bobrovsky stopped 44 shots to help the Panthers win their fifth season in a row.
In his first game back after a six-game absence, Aleksander Barkov, the Panthers' first center, signed the primary assist on Weegar's goal.
Florida honored Bobrovsky for his 500th NHL game – played February 10, 2020 in Philadelphia – in a pregame ceremony, and the Russian goalkeeper improved to 5-1-1 against his former club.
Oliver Bjorkstrand and Zach Werenski scored for Columbus. Elvis Merzlikins made 22 saves through two bouts, but was replaced by Joonas Korpisalo, who stopped 12 shots in the third.
After a scoreless first period, Barkov found himself in the middle of a hardworking cycle in the second, sending a smooth pass through the lock to Weegar at 3:57 AM.
Wennberg signed as a free agent after playing for six seasons in Columbus and scored 52 seconds later by finishing a 2-on-1 pass from Vatrano.
Then he added his second of the night from the left circle at 8:47 for a 3-0 lead.
In the third, Bjorkstrand's putback cut it to 3-1 at 2:46, but Vatrano regained the three-goal margin at 10:54 with a rebound on Owen Tippett's breakaway.
After Werenski scored, Wennberg completed the hat-trick in an empty net before his 11th with 7 seconds to go.
SIGNED … AND PLAYS
The Panthers took defender Matt Kiersted from the University of North Dakota on Thursday and put it on ice on Saturday.
Kiersted, 22, was one of seven defenders in the lineup when coach Joel Quenneville chose to use just 11 forwards. The left shot registered 12:47 ice age and blocked a team-high four shots in his NHL debut.
Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella has openly criticized Jack Roslovic's play – taken over from Winnipeg with Patrik Laine on January 23 – in the past few games and decided to make the Columbus native a healthy scratch in the first game of the South Florida team.
Roslovic, 24, has six goals and 16 assists in 31 appearances for his hometown club.
The Panthers made a trade on Friday afternoon, sending forward Vinnie Hinostroza to his hometown of Chicago Blackhawks in exchange for minor league forward Brad Morrison.
Born in the western Chicago suburb of Bartlett, 27-year-old Hinostroza failed to score a point in nine games in his first season with the Panthers, mostly skating on the fourth line.
Morrison, 24, appeared in nine games in stints in the AHL and ECHL this season.
In their 20th home game this season, the Panthers drew 4,375 fans.
The two clubs will close their two-game set on Sunday.