It was a historic night in more ways than one as the Panthers came from behind to defeat the Buffalo Sabres in a shootout on Tuesday night.
Jaromir Jagr entered the game 3 points back of Mark Messier for second on the all-time points list, and when he exited the after a 4-3 shootout victory, he had 1st-star honors and milestone puck. Clearly, the force was with Jagr as the Panthers celebrated Star Wars night all around the arena.
Nick Bjugstad’s first goal of the season tied things up with 3:51 left in the 3rd period, and it was started by Jagr who earned a secondary assist, giving him 1,887 points in his NHL career. Jagr had 2 assists earlier in the game to set up the milestone-tying point in the 3rd.
“I thought [Barkov] was grabbing the puck because it was my first goal of the season,” said Bjugstad. “I knew [Jagr] was close, but I didn’t know it was one more [point].
Before the goal, the Panthers were down after allowing 3 straight goals to the Sabres, who stormed back to erase a 2-0 deficit created by Aleksander Barkov and Keith Yandle. Barkov opened the scoring in the 1st period by sneaking the puck between the post and Robin Lehner’s right pad for his 8th goal of the season, while Yandle scored his 2nd of the season with a wrist shot from the point on the power play midway through the 2nd period.
The Sabres broke through on the power play against the Panthers’ penalty kill in the 2nd period to get within 1 before Evander Kane tied it 70 seconds later. Rasmus Ristolainen gave Buffalo the lead with 7:41 left in the 3rd period.
Roberto Luongo made 33 saves in the win – as well both shots he faced in the shootout – to earn the 447th of his career, tying him for 5th on the all-time wins list with Terry Sawchuk. Lehner stopped 36 of the Panthers’ 39 shots.
“It shouldn’t happen,” said Jagr about the Panthers losing a 2-0 lead. “We had them on their heels and we just let it slip. We have to learn with that. We we’re in a deep hole, so we can’t afford to lose any more hockey games.”
Barkov capped off his 3-point night with the winner in the shootout by out-waiting Lehner and putting the puck top shelf, nearly through the netting in the process. Vincent Trocheck also scored with a 5-hole laser to set up the victory.
“They’re going to make some mistakes,” said head coach Tom Rowe of the team’s young core. “But you’ve got to keep throwing those kids out there so they get some experience. The thing I love about this group is they are very resilient and they never say die.”
The Panthers improved to 10-0-3 when scoring 3 or more goals in regulation while the penalty kill has killed off 40 of the last 44 penalties taken by the team.
Things won’t get any easier as the Bruins will come to town on Thursday. The two teams have met twice already this season with Boston edging Florida by a goal in both matches, the most recent being on December 5th in a 4-3 overtime thriller. They’re coming off a 4-2 defeat at the hands of the Islanders on Tuesday and have won just 3 of their last 9 games, 2 of which were at home.