In a game where the Panthers absolutely needed a win, they were able to pull together and overcome another late lead squandered against the Lightning on Monday night.
It was the Panthers’ top line that struck first on the power play in the opening period as Jonathan Marchessault ripped a shot past his former teammate, Ben Bishop, from the right face-off circle. The goal gave him 7 in 13 games this season, matching his his total of 7 in 45 games last year while playing for the Panthers’ cross-state rivals. Keith Yandle picked up his first of 2 assists on the night and now has 5 in his last 5 games while Aleksander Barkov won the face-off on the play, earning him his first point since October 20th.
“It just goes to show, put the puck on the net and some good things happen once in a while,” said head coach Gerard Gallant. “[Marchessault] just shot the puck, and I think their defenseman screened them more than anything.”
The Lightning got a goal back to start the 3rd period as Alex Petrovic fanned on a D-to-D pass behind the Panthers’ net, and that left it sitting there next to the left post for the forechecking Ondrej Palat to jam home. With under 5 minutes remaining in the game, Reilly Smith stole the puck from Victor Hedman as he attempted to break out at his own blue line, skated in, and wristed the puck past Bishop to give the Panthers a lead late.
Derek MacKenzie sealed the deal a few minutes later with an empty-netter.
“I think they just got a little confused there,” said Smith on his game-winning goal. “They were swinging all over the place. I was lucky enough that (Victor Hedman) bobbled it a little bit. I just tried to get something on net, and luckily it went it.”
“Reilly’s got a great shot,” said Gallant. “That’s what he does best for us. He shoots the puck like that and he found a hole there. It wasn’t a bad goal, it was a great shot.”
Before tonight’s win, Roberto Luongo had lost 5 of his previous 6 starts while the Panthers as a team dropped 7 of their last 10. Like Saturday, he was marvelous and kept the Panthers in the game numerous times, finishing the game with 34 saves on 35 shots, 1 shy of his last outing.
The victory earned him the team’s new postgame award, a black hair cutting cape that reads “Vinnie’s Barber Shop” on the front.
“That’s what you want to do as a goalie,” said Luongo on his performance against the Lightning. “If there’s a breakout, you want to come up big for them.”
Jaromir Jagr, who was in the lineup tonight after missing the 2nd and 3rd periods against the Capitals on Sunday with a groin cramp, left early in the 3rd tonight with the same issue on the other side. Gallant said again that Jagr is day-to-day and that it’s not expected to be anything serious. Jagr had a handful of scoring chances before exiting the game and the lines were shuffled a bit to account for his departure.
The Panthers will face the San Jose Sharks for the first time this season on Thursday at home. Jussi Jokinen, who has missed the last 9 games, could return to the lineup after participating in a full team practice on Monday. Nick Bjugstad is expected to be out for at least this week, so he won’t be playing on Thursday or Saturday against the Islanders. The Sharks have lost 5 of their last 8 games and will face the Capitals on Tuesday night before arriving in Florida.