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Jagr, Panthers defuse Lightning for second straight win

Forecast after 4-3 win calls for staying in the playoff chase until the end.

Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

The slightly revamped Florida Panthers got a big performance from newly acquired Jaromir Jagr and linemates Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov in a 4-3 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning Sunday at the BB&T Center.

Jagr scored his first in a Panther uniform and added an assist. The goal was the 43-year-old 717th, tying him with Phil Esposito for fifth all-time in NHL history. Huberdeau dished out three helpers and Barkov matched Jagr's numbers as the Cats took a 4-1 lead before holding on for the important victory that moved them back within two points of the idle Boston Bruins.

After going pointless in his Cat debut, Jagr quickly rectified that to open the scoring midway through the first period. Huberdeau's attempted cross-ice feed deflected off a Bolt right to Jagr in the slot and he quickly snapped it by Ben Bishop. Brian Campbell drew the secondary assist on the goal.

The Lightning wasted little time in evening the affair. After Jonathan Drouin put on skating clinic in the Florida zone, he dished off to Anton Stralman who beat Al Montoya from the circle with a wrist shot off the post.

Just seconds after Montoya stoned Tyler Johnson on a penalty shot, the Cats regained the lead at the 5:31 mark of the second stanza. Barkov bagged his tenth goal of the season by poking in a Jagr rebound. Huberdeau collected his second helper of the game on the play.

Florida added to its lead with three minutes left in the period when Brad Boyes threw the puck from below the goal line into the crease and it bounced off an unfortunate Bishop and into the back of the net. The unassisted goal was the 200th of Boyes' career.

The Cats went up 4-1 early in the final frame courtesy of a power-play goal from rookie Aaron Ekblad. Ekblad blasted a shot from the point off a defender and past Bishop to cap off the sharp passing of Nick Bjugstad and Huberdeau.

Tampa Bay would not go quietly into the night. A cutting Steven Stamkos took a pass from Alex Killorn in the slot and easily beat Montoya to cut the deficit to two at 8:31.

Johnson made up for his earlier penalty shot miss with his twenty-fourth goal of the campaign with 2:44 remaining in regulation. The former Spokane Chief got loose in front and deflected Nikita Kucherov's cross-ice laser into the beckoning twine.

Montoya denied Stamkos' bid from the blue line with time running out, and the Panthers escaped with their 28th win and 69th point of the season.

The Cats get a much-needed day off today before facing the Toronto Maple Leafs Tuesday night as the club continues this key seven-game homestand, which has seen them post a 2-1 record so far.

Odds & Ends

  • Aaron Ekblad's power-play game-winner ended a seven-game stretch without a point. It was his first goal since Florida's 6-2 win over the Anaheim Ducks on February 10th and tied Ed Jovanovski's club record (10) for most goals by a rookie defenseman.
  • The Panthers raised their record against Atlantic Division foes to 11-3-4. Impressive, most impressive.
  • Steven Stamkos notched his thirty-fifth goal, but the Cats did a nice job overall on the Bolts superstar, limiting him to just two shots.
  • Al Montoya finished with 20 saves to post his fifth win of the season while Ben Bishop turned aside 22 of 26 Panther shots.
  • Scottie Upshall laid out a game-high six hits, but finished up with a -3 rating, as did linemate Tomas Kopecky.
  • Nick Bjugstad's third period helper was point number thiry-eight on the season, equaling his output of last season in thirteen less games. So yeah, he's improving.
  • The meeting was the first between the two clubs since Tampa Bay's 3-2 overtime win on opening night. The Cats and Bolts will get it on twice more before the end of the season.
  • Put on your black leather and hit up our friends at Raw Charge. They'll shock you and make you feel better.