COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP)Zach Werenski got his first career hat trick, Elvis Merlikins stopped 36 shots in his first NHL start and the battered Columbus Blue Jackets beat the Florida Panthers 4-1 on Tuesday night.
Werenski and the Blue Jackets served up a rude homecoming for Florida goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, who was making his first appearance in Columbus since leaving as a free agent last summer. Bobrovsky, who played in Columbus for seven seasons and won two Vezina Trophies, had 24 saves.
Boone Jenner also scored for the Blue Jackets, who are missing 10 players to injuries and may have lost another, forward Alexander Texier, on Tuesday. Texier left the game with an upper-body injury in the first period and didn’t return.
Columbus won for the first time in three games, but extended its points streak to 11 games (7-0-4). Florida had a two-game win streak snapped.
The game was a triumph and a relief for Merzlikins, who had played in 10 games this season, including four starts, and had yet to record a win. He got the start after regular goalie Joonas Korpisalo suffered a knee injury in the first round of a shootout on Sunday night.
Colton Scevior had the lone goal for Florida, which outplayed Columbus for most of the night.
Werenski got to Bobrovsky first at 4:54 of the first period, scoring off the draw with a slap shot from the top of the left circle that zoomed over the goalie’s glove.
Scevior tied it for the Panthers when he deflected a shot from the blue line by Anton Stralman 3:39 into the second.
Jenner got his eighth goal of the season on a power play later in the second period, a shot from a crowded slot that got between Bobrovsky’s pads. That made it 2-1 Columbus.
Weresnski got his second of the night at 4:13 of the third period with a shot from the left circle that caught Bobrovsky out in front of the crease. Florida unsuccessfully challenged it, claiming goalie interference because Nick Foligno had contact with Bobrovsky. Werenski made it 4-1 with his third tally, another from the left circle.
NOTES: Bobrovsky got a standing ovation from the sellout crowd at Nationwide Arena during a first-period scoreboard tribute. … Columbus F Nathan Gerbe played in his 400th NHL game.
Blue Jackets: At Boston on Thursday night.
Panthers: At Ottawa on Thursday night.
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