Panthers claw way back into East playoff race with strong homestand
SUNRISE, Fla. -- When the Florida Panthers hired head coach Gerard Gallant last summer, the organization expected the former Montreal assistant to bring with him an effective game plan revolving around a complete team effort and a punishing power play.
In Florida's 6-2 victory over the Anaheim Ducks on Tuesday night, both were clicking.
"We played really well again tonight," said Gallant. "We scored some real nice goals. Obviously the power play was hot and scored three goals again tonight. We were opportunist. We took advantage of our scoring chances and made the best of it."
Led by forward Jonathan Huberdeau, the Panthers jumped out to an early 3-0 lead, chasing Anaheim goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov from the game with goals on three of their first eight shots.
Huberdeau, who now has five points in just two games against the Ducks this season, finished the night with a season-high three assists and was honored as the first star of the game.
"[Huberdeau] made some great passes tonight," said Gallant. "We scored some real nice goals against a real good team. We played well and we played hard. Real happy obviously."
On the heels of a forgettable sophomore campaign, Huberdeau's breakout performance on Tuesday night was exactly what the Panthers were hoping Gallant would elicit from his former protege.
Huberdeau, who played some of his best hockey as a member of Gallant's Saint Johns Sea Dogs (QMJHL) from 2009-2012, leads the Panthers with seven multi-point games this season.
"I'm trying to be confident out there," said Huberdeau, who has notched nine goals and a career-high 22 assists this season. "We've just got to keep working and we're close to a playoff spot right now."
With Huberdeau setting the table, six different Panthers recorded a goal and 12 tallied at least one point against a stacked Ducks team that the Panthers have inexplicably outscored 12-4 in their two meetings this season.
"All guys contributed tonight. It was a fun game to be a part of. Everyone was scoring and making plays," said Panthers center Nick Bjugstad. "Iâdon't know if we really expected that kind of game again. Obviously we played them early in the year and kind of did the same thing. I don't know if we match up kind of well against them. It worked out tonight."
Highlighted by Bjugstad and Huberdeau, Florida's revamped power play, which has gone 8-for-26 since Gallant tweaked the unit to incorporate four forwards on most occasions, gave the Panthers all the offense they needed on Tuesday night as the team buried three goals with the extra attacker.
"We jumped on them right away and capitalized on those penalties," said Bjugstad, who notched his team-leading 18th goal of the season. "They had a lot of penalties called on them. It was good to get off on the right start and we just kept going from there."
In victory, the Panthers have now won three of their past four games and are quickly erasing much of the damage that had been done by their recent season-high five-game losing streak.
As they prepare to play seven of their next eight games on the road, Florida sits just four points behind the Boston Bruins for the final wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference with two games in hand.
"It's huge," said rookie defenseman Aaron Ekblad, who netted his ninth goal of the season. "Obviously we need as many points as we can to get back in that playoff race and we're right there behind Boston, so it's important that we get these points. Obviously it was unfortunate to give up one against Nashville, but five out of six against those three teams, I'll take it most days."