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Bennett scores twice, Panthers end skid with 5-1 win over struggling Canucks

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Florida Panthers' Matthew Tkachuk, right, deflects the puck wide of the net behind Vancouver Canucks goalie Spencer Martin (30) during the second period of an NHL hockey game in Vancouver, on Thursday, December 1, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Vancouver Canucks coach Bruce Boudreau is heading back to the drawing board after another head-scratching loss. 

After sweeping a tough road trip last week, his team has come out flat in two straight losses at home, including a 5-1 decision to the Florida Panthers on Thursday.

"How we can play so good in one week and then so bad the next week, it's pretty mind boggling," Boudreau said. 

"I would have put us against anybody after playing Colorado and Vegas and then coming back and still beating a San Jose team that won their next game 4-0 and then took the Leafs to the wire."

"So it's just, it's hard to understand.”

A disastrous 59-second span at the end of the first period proved to be the Canucks' (9-12-3) undoing Thursday. 

Matthew Tkachuk opened the scoring 18:14 into the first, sending a backhanded shot in from the slot for his 11th goal of the season. 

Twenty-five seconds later, former Canuck Gustav Forsling scored with a one-timer through traffic to put the Panthers up 2-0. Sam Reinhart contributed an assist on the play to extend his point streak to five games (two goals, five assist).

Seconds later, Florida was once again on the attack, peppering the Vancouver net with shots. Thatcher Demko stopped a shot from Patric Hornqvist, then grabbed his right leg as Ryan Lomberg batted in the rebound to give the visitors a 3-0 advantage. 

The goalie stayed down in the crease while a trainer came out. Supported by a trainer and teammate Ilya Mikheyev, Demko left the ice, putting no weight on his right leg. 

“Any time you lose your starter like that — I mean he could barely put weight on his leg — obviously we're concerned about him," said Canucks' captain Bo Horvat. "Not sure the severity of it but hopefully he's going to be OK and back in our lineup soon.”

The Canucks later tweeted that Demko would not return and Boudreau did not have an update on the goalie's status after the game. 

Demko stopped 15-of-18 shots on the night. He was replaced by Spencer Martin, who made 13 saves. 

It can be hard for a goalie to focus when they come off the bench due to an injury, Martin admitted. 

"Especially with a goalie partner or friend," he said. "But at the same time, you have a job to do once you're in that position. So I'm prepared for that every time I’m on the bench.” 

Thursday's result snapped a three-game losing skid for the Panthers. 

Sam Bennett scored twice and Tkachuk added a pair of assists to his game-opening goal. Spencer Knight made 31 saves for Florida (11-9-4)

“We've got off to pretty good leads in the last few weeks but I thought we did a great job of not just holding on to it, but building off it (tonight)," Tkachuk said. 

"Everybody stepped up. It's awesome when three lines can be able to contribute. Well, everybody contributed but three different lines scoring after the first just really set up our night."

Vancouver got on the board 12:26 into the second period. The Canucks won a defensive zone faceoff and Dakota Joshua went streaking down the ice on a two-on-one, then sent a quick wrist shot sailing past Knight to make it 4-1. 

Forty-eight seconds earlier, some slick passing led to a goal at the other end of the ice. Carter Verhaeghe and Tkachuk dished the puck back and forth across the slot before slicing it to Bennett, stationed backdoor for an easy tap-in. 

An ugly giveaway by Vancouver's Quinn Hughes sealed the score midway through the third period. 

The defenceman turned the puck over along the boards deep in Canucks' territory, leaving Tkachuk and Bennett unmanned. Martin dived to stop Bennett's ensuing wrist shot, but the puck sailed past him and the Panthers took a 5-1 lead 11:11 into the frame.

Tkachuk and Bennett play well off each other, said Panthers coach Paul Maurice. 

"They've been really good together and that's kind of why we kept them together at times," he said. "It doesn't seem to matter who Matthew plays with but Sam and he have something going for sure."

A smattering of boos emanated from the crowd at Rogers Arena during the final seconds of the game, and the jeers grew louder following the final whistle.

POWER PLAY STRUGGLES

The Canucks went 0-for-3 with the man advantage and the Panthers were 0-for-2. Vancouver does not have a power-play goal in its last three outings. 

MR. 900

Hornqvist played his 900th regular-season NHL game. He's played for the Nashville Predators, Penguins and Panthers over 15 seasons and won back-to-back Stanley Cups with Pittsburgh in 2016 and 2017.

LEGENDS RECOGNIZED

The Canucks held a pre-game ceremony to honour three former players who were recently inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. Former goalie Roberto Luongo and forwards Daniel and Henrik Sedin all stood at centre ice, watching video highlights from their careers before taking part in a ceremonial puck drop. 

UP NEXT 

The Canucks continue a four-game homestand Saturday when they host the Arizona Coyotes. The Panthers face the Kraken in Seattle the same night. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 1, 2022.

Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press