Sports

Good Knight: Florida rookie, 20, wins NHL debut

Spencer Knight made 33 saves in his NHL debut as the recharged Florida Panthers defeated the Columbus Blue Jackets 5-1 on Tuesday night in Sunrise, Florida.

Knight, a 2019 first-round pick of Florida out of Boston College, signed his entry-level deal with the Panthers after the Eagles’ season ended in the NCAA tournament. He served as the Panthers’ backup on Monday night against Columbus before getting the starting nod on Tuesday as Florida completed a back-to-back set.

“He looked very cool and calm in the net. The way he came out and handled pucks, assessed all his options, you could see an understanding of where everybody is around the rink,” Florida coach Joel Quenneville said. “He tracks the puck extremely well. Very composed.”

The Panthers have high hopes for the 20-year-old netminder from Darien, Connecticut, who led Team USA to an upset of Canada in the 2021 World Junior Championships in January. He was a finalist this season for the Hobey Baker Award, given to the top player in college hockey, and made 34 saves en route to a shutout of Canada in the gold-medal game.

“I wasn’t as nervous as I thought I would be,” Knight said of his NHL debut. “The guys did a good job of keeping it light and telling me to just go out and play hockey. At the end of the day, it’s just hockey. It was awesome.”

Sam Bennett scored two goals, Jonathan Huberdeau had a goal and two assists, Aleksander Barkov scored his first goal in four games, and Ryan Lomberg also scored a goal for Florida in the victory. The Panthers, who reshaped their roster for a playoff run at the trade deadline earlier this month, have won three in a row and four of five, and they improved to 7-0-1 against the Blue Jackets this season.

But it was clear in the postgame media availabilities that the night belonged to the rookie, who made his start one day after his 20th birthday.

“We knew he was going to be great,” Huberdeau said. “He might have been nervous, but it didn’t show out there. The way he moves the puck when he’s out of the net is incredible.”

Jack Roslovic scored for the Blue Jackets and Joonas Korpisalo stopped 28 shots. The Blue Jackets have given up four or more goals in their past seven games, all losses.

Bennett’s second goal stretched the Panthers’ lead to 3-1. Bennett, acquired in a trade with the Calgary Flames on April 12, has five points in his first three games with the Panthers.

Lomberg and Huberdeau scored goals less than a minute apart late in the second and the Panthers staked their young goalie to a 5-1 lead.

Barkov and Bennett scored 14 seconds apart in the first to give the Panthers a 2-0 lead. Barkov fired a wrist shot from the right circle that got past Korpisalo at 6 minutes, 52 seconds. Bennett followed by batting the puck out of midair and in at 7:06.

Roslovic closed the score to 2-1 on his power-play goal with 3:44 left in the first. Roslovic poked in a loose puck that beat Knight on the stick side.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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