Huberdeau’s 2 goals lead Panthers past Ducks; Ekblad hurt

ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) — Jonathan Huberdeau scored twice to pass Olli Jokinen for second place in franchise history, Spencer Knight made 17 saves for his first career shutout, and the Florida Panthers defeated the Anaheim Ducks 3-0 on Friday night.

Joe Thornton had a goal as Florida bounced back after its seven-game point streak ended against Vegas on Thursday, but the Panthers lost defenseman Aaron Ekblad to a lower-body injury in the first period.

“We knew we had to come back harder,” Huberdeau said after his second multigoal game this season and the 25th of his career. “Tonight, we just played hard, and that’s our game. And we got to get back to playing more consistently playing like that.”

Ekblad could not put any weight on his right leg after Aleksander Barkov lost an edge and slid into his teammate along the boards as Ekblad was delivering a hit to Anaheim forward Max Comtois just 1:05 into the game. Ekblad leads Panthers defensemen in goals (15) and assists (42), and is fourth on the team in points.

Interim coach Andrew Brunette said initial examinations showed Ekblad did not sustain a significant injury.

“We’ll get a better picture, a clearer picture tomorrow of exactly what it is, but, yeah, it was positive news tonight,” Brunette said.

John Gibson allowed three goals on 42 shots, and the Ducks dropped to 0-4-2 in their past six games.

“The mental mistakes that we did cost us,” Anaheim forward Nicolas Deslauriers said. “Those mistakes that we take are hitting us, and it’s hard to come back against a good hockey team.”

Huberdeau scored with 6.9 seconds left in the first period for his 189th goal with the Panthers to pass Jokinen, who had 188 in 567 games with Florida.

Barkov holds the franchise record with 207 goals.

Huberdeau opened the scoring with 6:06 left in the first, burying a one-timer from the left circle set up by Sam Reinhart on the power play. He became the sixth Florida player with at least 20 goals this season.

“It’s a pretty good luxury, as a coach, to have that many guys with that many goals,” Brunette said. “And we feel confident that on any given night somebody can win a hockey game for us or take off offensively.”

Thornton made it 3-0 at 3:44 of the second, getting his 430th career goal.

FLASHBACKS

The Panthers didn’t have Ekblad available in the playoffs last season after he broke his leg against Dallas on March 28, 2021. Huberdeau said there was no replacing Ekblad in that postseason and it would be even more difficult now as he has continued to raise his play.

“I think he’s consistent every night,” Huberdeau said. “He’s been so good offensively, but I think he’s a complete defenseman. … I think his game went up last year and even went up again even after his injury. The way he’s come back this year has been unbelievable.”

ASSET MANAGEMENT

Anaheim limped to another defeat with defenseman Hampus Lindholm held out as a healthy scratch with an eye toward Monday’s trade deadline. Lindholm has played his entire nine-year career with the Ducks, but the pending unrestricted free agent is likely to be traded without an agreement on a contract extension.

Another potential trade candidate, F Rickard Rakell, did not play for the third straight game because of an upper-body injury. New general manager Pat Verbeek already traded D Josh Manson to Colorado on Monday.

NOTES: Panthers forward Patric Hornqvist did not play because of an undisclosed injury. With Hornqvist out, Florida started the game with 11 forwards and seven defensemen. … Ducks forward Sam Steel returned after missing three games. He was hit in the face by a puck against Nashville and played with a full face shield.

UP NEXT

Panthers: At Montreal on Thursday night.

Ducks: Host Nashville on Monday night.

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