SUNRISE, Fla. (AP) — Matthew Tkachuk, Aleksander Barkov and Carter Verhaeghe each had a goal and an assist, and the Florida Panthers topped the Carolina Hurricanes 5-2 on Friday night in a rematch of last season’s Eastern Conference finals.
Sergei Bobrovsky stopped 28 shots on the way to winning his fourth consecutive start. Rookie Uvis Balinskis got his first NHL goal for Florida, and Kevin Stenlund added an empty-netter with 3:42 left for the Panthers.
Sam Reinhart had two assists for Florida.
Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Sebastian Aho scored for the Hurricanes. Antti Raanta made 29 saves for Carolina, which had won five of its last six games.
But of late, Panthers-Hurricanes games always seem to go Florida’s way. Carolina won 11 of 13 meetings between the teams, one of those in a shootout, between Nov. 23, 2018, and April 22, 2021. Florida has won 10 of the 12 games between the clubs since, including all four in last season’s playoffs.
Kotkaniemi opened the scoring 1:20 in with a quick goal off the rush. Tkachuk tied it less than 3 minutes later, and the Panthers never trailed again. Balinskis took a pass from Tkachuk and scored for a 2-1 lead late in the first.
It was 3-2 Florida after two, with Barkov scoring off a rebound and Carolina getting within a goal again when Aho scored late in that period.
But the third was all Florida with Verhaeghe scoring on a redirect to restore the two-goal edge and Stenlund getting the empty-netter.
Florida was again without injured forward Sam Bennett, though his return is evidently looming.
Bennett will get “a full, hard practice” on Saturday, Panthers coach Paul Maurice said, and then a decision will be made on his return. It could be as early as Sunday’s home game with Chicago, though Maurice cautioned that may be optimistic.
“I think he’s fairly close,” Maurice said.
Also potentially back for the Panthers in the next 10 days or so: defenseman Brandon Montour, who hasn’t played since the Stanley Cup Final because of shoulder surgery. He and fellow defenseman Aaron Ekblad — also out for shoulder surgery recovery — were originally slotted to miss games until potentially December, though Montour is a bit ahead of that pace. Still, Florida will be cautious.
“We’re not putting five months into this to bring him back a day early,” Maurice said.
Hurricanes: Visit Tampa Bay on Saturday night.
Panthers: Host Chicago on Sunday afternoon.