CHICAGO — The Florida Panthers got Joel Quenneville a win in his return to Chicago, using a hat trick by Frank Vatrano to beat the Blackhawks 4-3 on Tuesday night for their sixth consecutive victory.
The 61-year-old Quenneville coached Chicago to three Stanley Cup championships and nine playoff appearances in 10-plus years before he was fired when the team got off to a lacklustre start last season. He was hired by Florida in April, and the former NHL defenceman was showered with love in his first game back at the United Center.
The crowd of 21,559 roared and bellowed “Q!” during a sustained standing ovation after the Blackhawks aired a tribute video during the first period. One fan held up a sign that read “ThanQ.”
Quenneville smiled while he watched the video on the scoreboard, and then waved and mouthed “Thank you” while the crowd cheered.
“Very fortunate to have that type of career time here in Chicago and shared by a lot of people and feeling that today,” Quenneville said before the victory.
Evgenii Dadonov also scored for Florida for the fourth consecutive game. Mike Hoffman had two assists, and Sergei Bobrovsky made 32 saves.
The Panthers (28-16-5) won for the seventh time in eight games overall, including a dramatic 5-4 victory at Minnesota on Monday night. They head into the All-Star break in prime position for their first playoff appearance since 2016.
Patrick Kane, Kirby Dach and Drake Caggiula scored for Chicago (24-21-6), which had won a season-high five straight. Robin Lehner made 22 stops.
The Blackhawks honoured Kane before the game after he recorded his 1,000th career point during Sunday’s 5-2 victory against Winnipeg. The All-Star forward was presented with an engraved gold puck and crystal commemorating the achievement.
Quenneville also had a smile on his face while he watched the ceremony paying tribute to one of the players who rose to stardom while he was in Chicago.
Kane extended his point streak to 11 games when he drove a big slap shot by Bobrovsky with 1:15 left, trimming Florida’s lead to 4-3. But captain Jonathan Toews was whistled for hooking with 31.7 seconds remaining, helping the Panthers hold on.
After a scoreless first period, Florida grabbed control with four in the second.
Dadonov stuffed home a backhand from in front before Vatrano beat Lehner from the right circle for a 2-0 lead at 6:14. Moments after the Panthers killed off a penalty, Vatrano slid a shot between Lehner’s legs for a 3-0 lead midway through the period.
Dach got one back for Chicago with a slick backhand on his 19th birthday, but Florida opened a 4-1 lead when Hoffman’s centring pass banked in off Vatrano’s left skate. Vatrano’s 14th goal completed his second career hat trick.
NOTES: Kane reached 25 goals for the seventh consecutive season.
Panthers: At Montreal on Feb. 1.
Blackhawks: At Arizona on Feb. 1.
Jay Cohen can be reached at https://twitter.com/jcohenap
More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
Jay Cohen, The Associated Press