“It was a lot of fun,” said Bennett, who now has a pair of hat tricks on the season. “Our whole team was on our game tonight right from the start. We were playing well, playing with energy and having fun all night. That’s when our team is at its best.”
In fist place in the NHL with a record of 25-7-5, Florida improved to 20-3-0 at home.
“It’s a fun place to play, and we are playing an exciting brand of hockey,” Panthers interim head coach Andrew Brunette said. “The players are feeding off the crowd, and the crowd is feeding off the players. We want to bring an identity that South Florida is a real hard place to come in.”
The Stars can certainly attest to that.
Finding the back of the net for the first time this season, Gustav Forsling opened the scoring when he finished off a tic-tac-toe passing sequence by banging in a feed from Bennett past Jake Oettinger from on the doorstep to put the Panthers up 1-0 just 3:07 into the first period.
Doubling the lead, Anthony Duclair collected a pass from Jonathan Huberdeau, worked his way down into the in the slot and then tucked a shot around Oettinger before flying through the air — the second time this season that he’s gone airborne on a goal — to make it a 2-0 game at 8:50.
“Confidence is growing,” Duclair said. “All four lines and all the D are stepping up at the right moment. You can’t forget about Bob [Sergei Bobrovsky]. He was making key saves at key moments at the beginning. A couple bounces and it could’ve gone the other way. It starts with Bob in net, and we build from there out. It’s really fun playing right now, especially at home.”
In the second period, the floodgates opened.
After Carter Verhaeghe finished off a give-and-go with Aleksander Barkov by sniping a shot past Oettinger from the high slot to make it 3-0 at 5:33, Huberdeau followed suit just 30 seconds later when he one-timed a pass from Duclair into the back of the cage to push the lead to 4-0 at 6:03.
Following that goal, Anton Khudobin replaced Oettinger in net for Dallas.
Notching his third multi-goal performance this season within a span of less than three minutes, Bennett then scored at 12:37 and 15:30, respectively, to give the Cats a commanding 6-0 lead.
Briefly stopping the bleeding for the Stars, Roope Hintz scored at 1:06 into the third period to make it 6-1, but …….