Panthers complete sweep of Predators in a doubleheader to open the preseason

·3 min read

Frank Vatrano came out of the home locker room Sunday evening wearing a crisp, new Florida Panthers baseball cap.

He did not scoop it up off the ice, although he could have.

Vatrano got what is believed to be the first hat trick in Panthers’ preseason history Sunday as his three goals helped Florida beat Nashville in the opener of a doubleheader at the recently renamed FLA Live Arena.

The Panthers took the opening game 5-4 as Sam Bennett finished off the Preds less than a minute into overtime.

Florida ended up sweeping the doubleheader as it won the nightcap 3-1.

Anthony Duclair, Carter Verhaeghe and Brandon Montour scored with rookie goalie Spencer Knight making 29 saves.

The Panthers, who started training camp on Thursday, will take Monday off before returning to practice at the arena on Tuesday morning.

“I thought there were good things in both games,” coach Joel Quenneville said after Sunday’s doubleheader.

“We didn’t get much going offensively in the first game but then all of a sudden they started going in. They were two, good games though. We played hard. Some good things happened. They were fun to watch.”

Holding two games in one day allows for both teams to give playing time for the majority of their training camp rosters in one fell swoop.

Florida, for instance, played just about everyone on the training camp roster Sunday.

Those who got the day off included veterans Joe Thornton, Sergei Bobrovsky and Radko Gudas.

For Vatrano, there was no day off and although he is one of Florida’s veteran players, he probably cannot afford to take one.

Vatrano, who has 58 combined goals in his past three seasons with the Panthers, is now on what appears to be Florida’s fourth line along with Patric Hornqvist and Noel Acciari.

Hornqvist and Vatrano were paired up late last season and into the playoffs; their chemistry has been apparent. Vatrano’s first two goals — one from right in front of the net, the other off a slapshot — came off passes from Hornqvist.

“I have known Noel forever, we came up together in the minors with Boston,” Vatrano said. “We all compliment each other very well. We like playing hard-nosed hockey behind the net, get in goalies’ faces.”

“It felt good, the legs felt good in making some plays,” Vatrano said. “You want to have your legs early in the year so you can play your best hockey.

Vatrano, of course, wasn’t the only story of Sunday’s early game.

Just having star defenseman Aaron Ekblad back on the ice after he sustained a broken leg last March was uplifting for the Panthers.

Ekblad has been skating for the past few months and says he is at 100 percent.

Skating at game speed on Sunday — and getting to play a little extra in overtime — was especially good for a player who had been out so long.

“The first two days of camp were tough, we were skating pretty heavy,” Ekblad said.

“We were joking around that we didn’t find our legs until the third period. It started to feel really good and it was great being back on the ice, feel the puck again. As soon as I stepped on the ice for warmups, it felt amazing. You forget what it’s like being out there and it is like nothing else.”

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