The Florida Panthers cruised into the All-Star break on high, beating the Toronto Maple Leafs 5-1 at the BB&T Center to extend their latest winning streak to three games. Five different Cats lit the lamp and goaltender Roberto Luongo made 22 stops to post his 423rd career victory, tying him with Tony Esposito for seventh place on the NHL's all-time list.
The Panthers started quickly, firing seven shots on goal before the visiting Buds registered their first. Unfortunately they failed to dent James Reimer and it was Toronto who picked up the only goal of the first period after the Cats drifted off to sleep.
Speedy Nazem Kadri took a bank pass and advantage of a fallen Erik Gudbranson to move in one-on-one with Luongo and easily deposit the puck into the back of the net at 17:35. Peter Holland and Jake Gardiner drew the assists on Kadri's tenth.
Dion Phaneuf drove Quinton Howden into the boards early in the second period to give the Cats a man-advantage. Dmitry Kulikov came to Howden's aid and went at it with the perp, resulting in an additional spark.
The Panthers tied the game at the 3:49 mark when Brian Campbell threaded the needle to Aleksander Barkov and the man with the brand spanking new, six-year deal did the rest, beating Reimer with yet another sweet backhand move from his impressive repertoire. Luongo picked up the secondary assist for his second point of the year.
Florida's power play clicked again at 7:40 courtesy of another gorgeous pass. This time it was Jussi Jokinen putting the puck onto the tape of Vincent Trocheck, who redirected it into the yawning cage for his fourteenth goal. Campbell added another assist for his second point of the night.
After Luongo and the Cats survived a determined effort from the Leafs to tie the tilt, Reilly Smith produced a goal seemingly out of nowhere with a nice steal at center ice. Smith skated into the Toronto zone, found Jokinen wide open with a cross-ice pass and the veteran Finn fired it high by a helpless Reimer to put the Cats up by two.
Smith would bag a goal of his own 3:52 into the final frame. After Trocheck fed Gudbranson for a blast from the blue line, Smith collected the puck in front and calmly shot it by an out-of-position Reimer and defenseman Martin Marincin, who tried in vain to help his goalie out.
Alex Petrovic completed the scoring at 7:43 when he gathered up a loose puck along the boards and threw it on net. The vulcanized rubber found its through a beleaguered Reimer, giving Petrovic the first NHL goal of his young career.
The Atlantic Division-leading Panthers will now get some well-deserved rest (except for All-Stars Jaromir Jagr, Aaron Ekblad and Luongo) before getting back at it on Tuesday, when they tussle with the Washington Capitals in The District. The Capitals lead the Eastern Conference with 73 points, ten better than the Cats.
Rakes & Bags
- The Panthers raised their record to 20-0-1 when scoring three goals. This was the first time this season the club overcame a first period deficit to get the win. They were 0-9-2 in that department coming into the game.
- Reilly Smith's goal was his team-leading sixteenth of the season. Nothing against Jimmy Hayes, but how good is that trade looking.
- In addition to the Kulikov-Phaneuf bout, Aaron Ekblad squared off with Peter Holland in the first period.
- Speaking of Holland, he led the Buds with three shots, set up their only goal and registered one hit and a takeaway.
- The second period has been key in the Cats' current three-game winning streak. Florida outscored Chicago, Tampa Bay and Toronto by a combined 10-0 margin in the middle frame.
- Roberto Luongo won his eighth straight start on home ice. After Luongo passes "Tony-O", he will set his sights on the legendary Jacques Plante, who won 437 games.
- Alec Petrovic's first career goal came in his 82nd NHL game. Congrats Petro!
- The fine folks at war-on-ice have the advanced stats breakdown for you right here. The more important "JC" stats will likely be below in the comment section.
- Fancy having your strings pulled? Then head on over to Pension Plan Puppets for the other side of Florida's latest shot across the bow at The Center of the Hockey Universe.
Highlights (courtesy of NHL.com)