RECAP: Verhaeghe scores four goals, Panthers move back into … –

COLUMBUS — Carter Verhaeghe scored four goals to push the Florida Panthers back into a playoff spot with a 7-0 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena on Saturday.
With five games left to play, the Panthers (39-31-7) lead the Pittsburgh Penguins (37-29-10) by one point for the second wild card in the Eastern Conference. Additionally, they’ve also clawed their way back into within two points of the New York Islanders (39-29-9) for the first wild card.
“We’re right in the mix,” said Verhaeghe, who joined Pavel Bure and Mark Parrish as the only players in franchise history to score four goals in a game. “We like the way we’re playing. Every game’s a playoff game right now. We’re doing everything we can to make a push.”
Stepping up in the absence of Sergei Bobrovsky, Alex Lyon turned aside all 21 shots he faced against Columbus to pick up his third straight win and earn the first shutout of his NHL career.
“It feels good,” said Lyon, who has posted a 6-3-1 record over 10 appearances with the Panthers this season. “I wish I could be super humble, but it actually does feel pretty good. It’s just kind of one of those things that I’ve always wanted and just never knew that the opportunity would present itself. Yeah, it just feels good. It gives me a lot of confidence that it’s within my grasp.”
Netting his 29th goal of the season, Sam Reinhart opened the scoring for the Panthers when he collected a pinpoint pass from Matthew Tkachuk in the slot and took a few heavy whacks at the puck before finally sending it past Michael Hutchinson to make it 1-0 at 12:03 of the first period.
Moments after a faceoff win from Aleksander Barkov in the offensive zone, the Panthers doubled their early lead when Gustav Forsling set up Verhaeghe for a goal from the doorstep with a heat-seeking missile of a pass straight through the slot to make it 2-0 at 17:29.
Securing his 10th multi-goal game of the season, Verhaeghe struck again just 18 seconds into the second period when he pounced a on a juicy rebound after a shot from Aaron Ekblad and fired the rubber past a diving Hutchinson and into the back of the cage to make it 3-0 at 19:42.
Finishing off the third hat trick of his career, Verhaeghe curled into the center of the left circle before picking a corner with a wicked wrist shot to extend Florida’s advantage to 4-0 at 6:34.
FLA@CBJ: Verhaeghe scores his third goal of the game
“He’s got an incredible release on his shot,” Panthers coach Paul Maurice said of Verhaeghe. “He works hard at his game. He’s trying to get better every day. Some good goal scorers are hard to convince to do the other things, and he’s willing to work hard. He’s willing to battle on the boards and improve on his game. He can score more. I think there’s another level.”
After Nick Cousins lit the lamp to put the Panthers up 5-0 at 8:34 of the third period, Verhaeghe notched his fourth goal when he zoomed down toward the net before burying a slick cross-ice feed from Anthony Duclair to make it 6-0 at 11:18. Soon after, Eric Staal made it 7-0 at 14:16.
With the Blue Jackets on the power play, Lyon kept his shutout intact when he denied Kent Johnson on a golden opportunity with just a second left on the clock to lock in the victory.
“Honestly, I felt pretty comfortable,” Lyon said when asked about facing that last shot. “Usually when you got the zero, it’s like, ‘Uhhh.’ But I felt pretty comfortable. My main priority is just winning the game. The shutout is nice for me personally, like I said, but I would’ve been happy winning that game 7-6, to be quite honest with you. This time of the year is about winning.”
In addition to becoming just third player in franchise history to score four goals in a game, Verhaeghe increased his career-high and team-leading goal total to 40, which places him alongside Bure as the only two Panthers to ever hit that lofty number in a season.
Not bad company.
“I don’t think you really dream of scoring 40 goals,” Verhaeghe said of his impressive milestone. “You just dream of making it [to the NHL]. It was a pretty special night, for sure.”
“It’s awesome. It’s good to see. He’s playing so well back there. We have a lot of confidence in him. He’s making all the saves he should make. It’s hard to do, to come in from the American League and have such an impact. It’s awesome to see.” Carter Verhaeghe on Alex Lyon
“I love the way we defended. We got some really good goaltending along the way. There wasn’t much cheat in our game. For us to have success, that’s the brand of hockey that we’re trying to execute.” – Sam Reinhart on Florida’s team defense against the Blue Jackets
“It’s just a great lesson for us to go through. You get all excited because you’re up one, and then two days later you’re down three and the world’s coming to an end. But then you fight your way back in. Resiliency is the most important part of this journey that we’ve been on since January.” – Paul Maurice on the Panthers moving back into a playoff spot
The Panthers (39-31-7) will return home to kick off a two-game homestand with a divisional matchup against the Buffalo Sabres (37-31-7) at FLA Live Arena on Tuesday at 7 p.m. ET.


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