Panthers get much-needed victory ahead of important road trip
SUNRISE, Fla. — The Florida Panthers needed this one.
For the first time since a victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Dec. 28, the music was cranked up to 11 in the Panthers home dressing room after a 3-2 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Thursday night snapped a season-long five-game losing skid.
"Yeah, we needed that one," said Panthers goaltender Roberto Luongo, who allowed two goals on 33 shots. "The first period didn’t exactly go the way we wanted it, but we were tied after one. After they scored their first in the second, I thought we got our game going and played really well. They got a lucky break on their second goal, but other than that, I thought the last 40 minutes we played really solid."
It may not have been the complete "60-minute effort" that the Panthers had pined for and pointed to after each of their recent losses, but 40 minutes of solid play, as well as a few lucky bounces, was enough on Thursday to give Florida its first win over Columbus since 2007.
"It was good to get the last game of the homestand and get a win," Panthers head coach Gerard Gallant said. "They took it to us early, but after that, I thought we handled the game. Columbus is a tough team. They forced us into mistakes. We battled and finally got some breaks tonight."
The break, which Gallant refers to, came with 6:52 left in the third period as Panthers forward Sean Bergenheim broke a 2-2 tie when he deflected a long shot from defenseman Dmitry Kulikov. The puck deflected off Bergenheim’s stick, hit the ice in front and bounced in for what would prove to be the eventual game-winning goal.
"I wanted to tip it all along and then I see a stick coming at the same time," said Bergenheim, who took a stick to the face on the play. "Luckily, I got the puck first and then took the stick in the mouth."
The Panthers celebration, however, would have to be put on hold as the score spent several minutes under video review to see if the puck was touched with a high stick. Luckily, after a few long-distance calls to the NHL’s replay war room in Toronto, the goal was upheld.
"I don’t think it was questionable, I think it was in," Panthers forward Jonathan Huberdeau said with a hearty laugh. "It was important to get back (in the win column) in the last game at home before going on the road. It was important to get two points, and that’s what we did. We’ve got to respond quicker and that’s what we did in the third period. We played well. The most important thing is what we got two points."
At this point, the Panthers, who currently sit six points behind the New York Rangers for the second wild card, will take the points any way they come as they head north for three games in four nights against the New Jersey Devils, Rangers and New York Islanders.
With this make-or-break road trip on the horizon, the elation of victory and sounds of music only momentarily suppressed the harsh reality that has crept into the mind of each Panthers skater.
Interviews began with a smile and ended with a stern, piercing gaze as the conversation transitioned from Thursday’s victory to the tough road that lies ahead for the playoff-hopeful Panthers.
A Bergenheim redirection may have salvaged a much-needed victory against a tough Columbus team, but it’ll take more than a few lucky bounces to change the course of the Panthers season.
The losing streak is over, but a winning streak is needed.
"We’ve got to go on a streak the other way," Huberdeau said.