CALGARY – Sam Bennett saw it as a step in the right direction. But it was also a step into history.
The Flames rookie became the third youngest player in NHL history to score four goals in a game — including a hat trick in the first period — and Jonas Hiller had 15 saves as Calgary won 6-0 over Florida on Wednesday, handing the Panthers their first regulation loss in 14 games.
“It’s a great feeling,” said Bennett, up to 10 goals on the season. “It’s big for my confidence. I knew I felt confident playing in this league and now I think I took another step in the right direction.”
Per Elias Sports, Jack Hamilton (Toronto, 1943-44) and Bobby Carpenter (Washington, 1981-82), are the only two players to score four times in a game at age 18.
“Wow,” exclaimed Flames coach Bob Hartley. “Right from the start of the game, he was flying out there. Very happy for him, a great performance, he played well. Here’s a young kid that was working so hard, it’s nice to see that he’s getting rewarded.”
Bennett had not had a goal in 47 days when he scored Monday against San Jose. Immediately after the goal, his first in 19 games, he made a gesture of removing the monkey off his back, a reference to his long drought. He wasted little time scoring again, one-timing a set-up from Jiri Hudler past Roberto Luongo just 56 seconds into Wednesday’s game.
Mikael Backlund, who centred the line with Bennett and Hudler, was impressed at how Bennett stayed positive during his slump.
“He still played really well during his slump. For a young player, it’s easy to just fade away. but he was being physical, was still making plays and was trying to score and it just didn’t come,” said Backlund.
Johnny Gaudreau and Mason Raymond also scored for Calgary (20-20-2), which had lost four of their previous five home games. The Flames begin a five-game road trip in Edmonton on Saturday.
Florida (26-13-5) had entered the night as the NHL’s hottest team having gone 12-0-1 since losing in regulation to Boston on Dec. 12.
“It’s embarrassing,” said Panthers centre Jonathan Huberdeau. “Coming up here after a pretty good streak and being beat 6-0? It’s not what we were hoping for. We didn’t have a good start at all, we weren’t ready, and they took advantage of us.”
Playing their fifth game in a row on the road, it looked like the Panthers ran out of gas, getting outshot 36-15.
“We got our butts handed to us tonight. It was well deserved,” said Florida defenceman Erik Gudbranson.
Dec. 12 was also the last time Hiller appeared in a game with Karri Ramo having taken over as the Flames No. 1 goalie, getting 12 starts in a row before finally getting a rest.
“Sometimes it’s easier to see more shots but at the same time, I don’t think we gave up too many scoring chances so that always helps,” said Hiller, who entered the night with an ugly .862 save percentage.
Luongo, replaced by Al Montoya to start the second period, yielded four goals on 15 shots. He falls to 19-12-4.
Bennett completed his first-ever NHL hat trick at 17:01 of the first period when he backhanded a rebound under the crossbar to make it 4-0. The Scotiabank Saddledome crowd jumped to its feet and hats flew onto the ice in recognition of the feat. At 19 years and six months, he became the youngest Flame to score three goals in a game.
His fourth on spectacular individual effort came with 25 seconds left in the game.
Notes: Florida head coach Gerard Gallant missed the game after the passing of his mother. Assistant coach Mike Kelly filled in….. Panthers D Aaron Ekblad (concussion) missed his second game… Hudler (groin) returned after missing three games while Calgary C Joe Colborne was a healthy scratch… Florida’s Jaromir Jagr (4-2-6) and Aleksander Barkov (1-4-5) both had five-game point streaks snapped.