Tuesday night’s 3-2 win over the Hurricanes didn’t come easy for the Panthers, but it didn’t matter.
In what was a must-win game, the Panthers came away with 2 points. Despite a lack-luster effort for most of the game, the Panthers’ young guns came through in the shootout to end a 3-game losing streak and keep the team in the playoff race.
“Obviously it was a big two points for our club,” said Roberto Luongo. “We lost three in a row at home and it’s not acceptable as a team to go through that stretch, especially at home. We really need these wins. Maybe it wasn’t as beautiful as we wanted it to be, but we got the job done and we scored some big goals in the shootout.”
The last time the two teams met this season, they were in Carolina and Gerard Gallant was behind the bench for the visitors. He left that game on November 27th without a job when he was fired after blowing a 2-0 lead and eventually losing 3-2.
This time, the Hurricanes were without leading scorer Jeff Skinner, who left before the game started with an upper-body injury, and Viktor Stalberg, who was dealt to the Senators in a trade earlier in the day.
Not only that, but Carolina lost Brock McGinn to an injury in the 1st period, leaving them with just 10 forwards for the rest of the game.
In a way, things felt eerily similar on Tuesday when Jaromir Jagr and Vincent Trocheck got the Panthers out a 2-0 lead with goals coming 4:02 apart in the second half of a dominant opening period.
A switch seemingly switched in the 2nd and 3rd period, however, as the Hurricanes tied the game on goals by Lee Stempniak and Sebastian Aho which would force an overtime period and eventually a shootout.
Aleksander Barkov scored with a nifty back-hander after stick-handling goaltender Cam Ward into an oblivion, and Roberto Luongo stopped by Carolina attempts to set up Jonathan Huberdeau’s game-winning 5-hole goal.
“It’s a [goalie coach] Robb Tallas move,” said Barkov of his shootout goal. “He showed us that move in practice and we tried it a couple times on different goalies. It works if you try to do it right. Of course I came a little bit to close and [Cam Ward] almost poke checked me. But it’s still a good move and I like it.”
Luongo made 23 saves on 25 shots in only his 3rd start since February 18th after allowing 4 goals in his most recent outing on Friday against Calgary. Ward stopped 29 of the Panthers’ 31 shots in his 5th consecutive loss.
“He was really good; really good in the shootout, obviously,” said head coach Tom Rowe of Luongo’s performance.” “He made big saves when we needed him to. It’s good. He’d been fighting it a little bit. I think he felt real good about himself tonight.”
The win puts the Panthers just 1 point back of the Toronto Maple Leafs for the 2nd wild card spot in the Eastern Conference and 4 back of the Boston Bruins for 3rd place in the Atlantic Division with a game in hand.
Denis Malgin returned to the Panthers’ lineup for the first time since being assigned to the AHL in late-January and playing 15 games with the Springfield Thunderbirds.
After posting 12 points in that stretch, he was recalled and was placed on the 3rd line with Jonathan Marchessault and Nick Bjugstad, although he had just 6:31 of ice time and only 1 shift in the 3rd period after an early give away appeared to be the cause of a benching by the coaching staff.
While Malgin made his way back onto the active roster, forward Greg McKegg left it on Monday after being claimed on waivers by the Tampa Bay Lightning. McKegg recorded 5 goals and 3 assists for 8 points in 46 career games with the Panthers as well as 27 points in 54 games with the Portland Pirates and Springfield Thunderbirds during his time with the organization.
He was originally acquired from the Toronto Maple Leafs 2 years ago in exchange for Zach Hyman, who the Panthers tried but couldn’t get to sign an entry-level contract with the team.
The Panthers will now travel to Philadelphia to face the Flyers on Thursday night before heading back home for 3 straight games at the BB&T Center. The Flyers defeated the Avalanche 4-0 on Tuesday night for just their third win in their last 8 games.
The Flyers defeated the Panthers 3-1 and 3-2 in the previous 2 meetings this season, and Thursday’s game will be the series finale.