OTTAWA, Ontario (AP) – Carter Verhaeghe scored twice and Spencer Knight stopped 27 shots for his second career shutout as the Florida Panthers beat the Ottawa Senators 4-0 on Thursday night.
With the win and Nashville’s 5-4 shootout win over Western Conference leaders Colorado (56-18-7), the Panthers (58-17-6) clinched their first President’s Trophy for best record. of the regular season and home ice advantage throughout the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
“I think it was huge,” Panthers head coach Andrew Brunette said of Knight’s performance. “It was important for the group and I think it was important for him. He was solid the whole game. I’m proud of our group that we kind of sealed off and had a kind of mentality control where we didn’t give up much in the third period, to make sure we got him the shutout.
Sam Reinhart and Sam Bennett also scored for Florida, ending Ottawa’s four-game winning streak.
Filip Gustavsson made 26 saves for Ottawa.
With the first seed in the Eastern Conference locked up, the Panthers rested a few of their starters, including Jonathan Huberdeau, Aleksander Barkov, Claude Giroux, MacKenzie Weegar and Gustav Forsling.
Florida held a 1-0 lead to open the third period and scored twice in 21 seconds in the opening minutes of the third period.
Bennett controlled a rebound from Anthony Duclair up front to make it 2-0, and moments later Eetu Luostarinen found Verhaeghe, who scored from an extended Gustavsson.
“I think it deflated them a bit,” Verhaeghe said. “They thought they were still in the game, but getting two quick ones like that and making it 3-0 kind of puts it out of reach. I mean, they play a tough game. Give them credit – it was good.
Verhaeghe scored his second of the game midway through the period for his 24th of the season.
“I just thought we played really slow,” Senators coach DJ Smith said. “We kept (the puck) and brought it back and we really didn’t put their ‘D’ under any pressure and then we got beat. Loads of turnovers, two on one and we didn’t play them very well and they end up in the net and then you start to drag.
The Panthers had a great opportunity to extend their lead early in the second with a two-man advantage for 51 seconds, but couldn’t capitalize.
Florida kept coming, but Gustavsson was solid, making a big save on Verhaeghe. At the other end of the ice, Knight held firm, stopping Auston Watson on a big chance.
Bennett grabbed Drake Batherson’s puck at the goal line and passed it to Reinhart, who scored his 33rd of the season from hashmarks to give the Panthers a 1-0 first lead.
“Granted, you want to end better than that,” Smith said. “Tomorrow we have to play a lot harder than that. We didn’t play through any of the structures we play with that gave us a chance to win every night.
“It doesn’t matter how many guys are out, you play with a structure and you stay there. We had a lot of people on their own page and, you know, long shifts. We played much better hockey.
NOTES: Eugene Melnyk’s daughters, Anna and Olivia, were on hand to shoot the puck for the home final. Florida’s Aleksi Heponiemi, Matt Kiersted and Cole Schwindt were all in the roster. Anton Lundell (upper body) and Radko Gudas (lower body) missed the game while nursing minor ailments.
Florida: At the Montreal Canadiens on Friday.
Ottawa: At the Philadelphia Flyers on Friday.
More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/hub/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports