The Florida Panthers got most of their work done in the regular season by acquiring key pieces at the trade deadline and punching their ticket for the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Much like their previous months, they were very successful and they currently hold the second seed in the Central Division. The 2021 regular season is almost over as Florida has four games left in their campaign before beginning their quest for Lord Stanley’s Cup.
As a result, we should recognize the three stars this month that made this playoff berth a reality and pushed this team to greater heights in April.
3rd Star: Spencer Knight
In the short time he’s played with Florida, goaltender Spencer Knight has shown he can perform at the level analysts were expecting he would. The 2019 first-round selection did not disappoint.
In his first National Hockey League appearance on April 20, he stopped 33 of 34 shots and posted a .971 save percentage (SV%) against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Most importantly, he also nabbed his first career win in his first career start. As an unfortunate result of an injured goaltender in Chris Dreidger, Knight would be the backup for Sergei Bobrovsky during their final road trip of the season. However, Bobrovsky struggled mightily in his start against the Nashville Predators on April 27.
As a result, Knight was brought on in the final period of that game and stopped all nine of his shots faced. Furthermore, he helped the Panthers steal a big two points and clinch a playoff spot for the first time since the 2015-16 season. Due to his success, he would get the call to start on April 29 against the Chicago Blackhawks, where he would pick up his third straight win.
As of now, he currently holds a 3-0-0 record, with a .943 SV% and a goals against average of 1.43. Additionally, he is the second-youngest goaltender in NHL history to win his first three appearances of his career at 20 years old.
2nd Star: Sam Bennett
After being dealt to the Panthers for a second-round pick and a prospect, forward Sam Bennett has been lighting the lamp and is playing at a phenomenal level in his short time with the team.
Related: Panthers Acquire Bennett From Flames
Bennett scorched opposing teams in the month of April, banking 11 points (five goals, six assists) through his first eight games with the Panthers, this includes his first career overtime winner against the Chicago Blackhawks on April 29. To compare, in 38 games played this season with the Calgary Flames, he registered 12 points (four goals, eight assists). Through those same games, he only trails Aleksander Barkov for the most goals scored. In every single game he’s played with Florida so far, he’s failed to register a point in only one game. He’s finally playing at the level a fourth-overall pick should be playing at. And all it took was a simple change of scenery.
Originally drafted by Calgary, Bennett never really played to his hype with the Flames during regular season play. However, he is known for his incredible playoff performances, as he has 19 points (11 goals, eight assists) through 30 career postseason games. This is in large part due to his style of play that focuses on toughness and grit, which is exactly what the playoffs are all about.
1st Star: Aleksander Barkov
This almost feels like a broken record. Barkov continues to play to an elite level night-in and night-out and the month of April was no different from the Finnish captain.
Barkov went on an absolute tear this month, as he notched 15 points (11 goals, four assists) through 15 games. With that, he currently leads the team and is tied for sixth in the league in goals with 25. In addition, he had a total of four multi-point games throughout the past month.
Since being drafted back in 2013, Barkov has been arguably the best two-way center in today’s NHL. Every season, he’s constantly in the running for the Lady Byng Trophy, which he won in 2019, and the Selke Trophy. In addition, his name might be entering the conversation this year as the league MVP. He should absolutely have some sort of consideration as he’s helped drive this team to success.
Will the Playoffs Bring More Star Power?
With the playoffs not too far away, Florida has been on a strong run as they went 7-2-1 in their last 10 games. Right now, they currently hold the second spot in the Central Division with three games left to go in the regular season, chasing Carolina by two points. With the craziness of this team and this season, everyone should expect the unexpected.
My name is Joey. I’ve been writing about the NHL for about 3 years with my experience spread out between TSJ 101 Sports and Panther Parkway. I look forward to you reading my articles!