Sam Bennett shines again for Panthers with overtime winner

It seems that Sam Bennett just needed a change of scenery and a fresh start.

He continued to make a massive impact for the Florida Panthers on Thursday night when he scored the overtime goal in a 4-3 win over the Chicago Blackhawks.

The win helps the Panthers keep pace with Carolina and Tampa Bay in the Central Division race. They currently have a one-point lead over the Lightning for second place, while trailing the Hurricanes by two points for the top spot. Both teams have two games in hand on the Panthers.

Alexander Wennberg, Anthony Duclair, and Brandon Montour (another trade deadline pickup) also scored goals for the Panthers in the win, while Spencer Knight stopped 24 out of 27 shots to improve his record to a perfect 3-0-0 on the season. He has stopped 66 out of 70 shots in his first three appearances. His biggest stop on Thursday came in overtime just before Bennett’s winner when he stoned a wide open Patrick Kane.

[Related: Sam Bennett hits ground running for Panthers]

But for as good as Knight has been, and for as good as the Panthers continue to be in their surprising rise to the top of the division, the big story on Thursday is still Bennett. After failing to make a consistent impact in Calgary and being the subject of trade rumors for more than a year the Flames finally shipped him to Florida at the deadline for a second-round pick and Emil Heineman (the Panthers’ second-round pick in 2020).

The early results for the Panthers have been better than anybody could have hoped for.

With his overtime winner on Thursday, he already has five goals and 11 total points in his first eight games with the Panthers. He has been one of the most productive players to change teams at the deadline and is producing at a rate we did not see from him in Calgary. Keep in mind he had just 12 points in 38 games with the Flames before the trade. That came after he recorded 12 points in 52 games a year ago.

The Panthers already had the superstars at the top of the lineup with Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau.

What they needed to take a step forward as an organization was some secondary support around them. Since the start of the offseason they have done a great job assembling that depth with the additions of Patric Hornqvist, Carter Verhaeghe, Wennberg, and now Bennett added to that mix.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

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    Canucks’ Ilya Mikheyev to have season-ending knee surgery

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    VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Vancouver Canucks right wing Ilya Mikheyev is set to have season-ending surgery on his left knee.

    Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin said Friday night the 28-year-old Russian forward tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the team’s first preseason game Sept. 25. Mikheyev will undergo surgery next week and is expected to be ready for training camp in the fall.

    Mikheyev was originally listed as week-to-week with the injury and played 45 regular-season games, finishing with 13 goals and 15 assists. He scored in his final appearance Friday night, a 5-2 home victory over Columbus.

    Mikheyev signed a four-year, $19 million contract as a free agent last summer.

    Maple Leafs’ Matthews out at least 3 weeks with knee injury

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    Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews will miss at least three weeks with a sprained knee.

    The team announced the reigning MVP’s anticipated absence Friday, two days after Matthews was injured in Toronto’s victory against the New York Rangers.

    Matthews is expected to miss at least six games and could be out for a few more. The timing of the injury coinciding with the NHL All-Star break and the Maple Leafs bye week prevents this from costing Matthews more time out of the lineup.

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    Caufield opted for surgery with Habs out of playoff race

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    MONTREAL — Montreal Canadiens winger Cole Caufield said Friday he wouldn’t be having season-ending surgery on his right shoulder if the team were in playoff contention.

    But with the Canadiens near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, the 22-year-old Caufield said he decided to have the surgery to protect his long-term health. The procedure is scheduled to be performed by Dr. Peter Millett on Wednesday.

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    All-Star Matty Beniers to miss next 2 games for Kraken

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    SEATTLE — Seattle Kraken rookie All-Star Matty Beniers will miss the team’s final two games before the All-Star break after taking a big hit from Vancouver’s Tyler Myers earlier this week.

    Seattle coach Dave Hakstol said after morning skate Friday that Beniers would not play Friday night against Calgary or Saturday against Columbus. Hakstol did not speculate on Beniers’ availability for next weekend’s All-Star Game in Florida.

    The team has not specified what kind of injury Beniers sustained from the hit. He was barreled over by Myers away from the play early in the second period in Wednesday’s 6-1 victory over Vancouver. Myers was penalized for interference on the play. Beniers returned briefly for one shift later in the period but did not play in the third period.

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    Seattle also placed defenseman Justin Schultz on injured reserve and recalled forward Max McCormick from Coachella Valley of the AHL. Hakstol said Schultz is improving but there’s no timeline on his return.