Florida won their eighth straight game in front of 20,289 at the BB&T Center in Sunrise, FL on Saturday night. They scored three times in front of Roberto Luongo, who earned his third shutout of the season (and 71st overall, which ties him in 11th all-time with Lorne Chabot and Harry Lumley).
Three minutes into the first period, Shawn Thornton dropped the gloves for a marathon 1:30 bout against former Panther Tanner Glass. Of course, each player was assessed a five-minute major, but in my opinion, Thornton got the better of Glass.
The Panthers earned their first man-advantage when Keith Yandle hooked Vincent Trocheck at the 7:42 mark, but Florida wouldn't see any results. Jonathan Huberdeau, Aleksander Barkov, and Jaromir Jagr nearly combined to break the seal on the scoreboard halfway through it, but were foiled by an over-aggressive post behind Henrik Lundqvist.
12 minutes into the opening frame, Brian Campbell sent a touchdown pass over and behind everyone, hitting Brandon Pirri nearly in stride for what could have been a breakaway attempt (remember that Pirri is five-for-six on shootout attempts this season, and this is the same guy who once scored 18 goals without an assist).
The two clubs each committed nearly offsetting penalties, first when Dan Boyle interfered with Reilly Smith at 14:46, then when Jags held Ryan McDonagh at 15:29. Neither advantage amounted to anything, though, as the two teams skated back to even strength without having dented the scoreboard.
At the 19-minute mark, Vincent Trocheck almost scored on King Henrik, but lost an edge going for the deke.
With 24 seconds left in the opening period, Logan Shaw (4) got the Panthers onto the board with his fifth point of the season after being fed on a nice cross-ice pass from fellow "rookie" Corban Knight. Shaw redirected Knight's pass over Lundqvist's stick for the 1-0 Panthers lead heading back to the locker room. It was Knight's third assist and fourth point of the season.
The Rangers were controlling the Panthers with 20 hits to only six for Florida through the opening period, although the Panthers enjoyed a slight 19-to-18 edge in Corsi Events. New York got 10 shots through to Luongo versus seven for the Cats. Aaron Ekblad blocked two Rangers' shots. New York also completely owned Florida in the faceoff circle, 13-to-two.
Just into the second period, Jagr was whistled for his second infraction of the night roughing Rick Nash. For those paying attention, it looked like Jagr was simply retaliating for an overly-froggy check by Mr. Nash, but the reaction will always be the guy in the box. The Rangers got a lot of shots on Lu through the two-minute span, including a Yandle palm-stinger at 18:24 and a Derek Stepan xerox just 10-seconds later, but Bobby Lou was standing tall.
At the 4:41 mark, Vincent Trocheck scored his 11th marker of the season, unintentionally redirecting a Alex Petrovic shot past a prone Lundqvist. Brian Campbell earned the second assist on the play. Trocheck now has 23 points on the season, a career high along with his goal total. He joins Jagr, Barkov and Smith in a four-way tie for the team-lead. For Petro, it was his eighth career assist and fourth of the season. He has never scored a goal. In BC's 332nd career regular season game for the Cats, he racked up his 133rd assist and his 157th overall point. Campbell has recently graduated into Florida's all-time top 10 in assists, passing Ray Whitney (130).
With 10:44 elapsed in the middle period, Emerson Etem was called for hooking Jonathan Huberdeau, giving the Panthers their third power play chance of the game. They would capitalize on a pretty tic-tac-toe series of passes which would end with Brandon Pirri's eighth goal of the season. Smith (10) and Jussi Jokinen (17) earned the helpers on the play, although Campbell also factored heavily in the puck movement on the series.
With just over a minute to go in the frame, Reilly Smith was called for holding Yandle, but the second intermission started (and ended) with a 3-0 Panthers lead.
The Rangers really controlled play despite Florida's lead, generating 25 shots in Luongo's general direction while only allowing the Panthers to get nine toward Lundqvist. New York also enjoyed a 15-6 edge in shots-on-goal and a 12-to-6 advantage in the faceoff dot.
The Rangers continued to control the pace of play, but Luongo couldn't be beat. New York fired 25 shots in his direction, including 14 on net, while the Panthers got only seven shots off, putting five on Lundqvist. Both teams won nine faceoffs through the period, although the Rangers lay down 10 hits to only six for the Cats.
Lu stopped a total of 40 shots for the Panthers in his shutout, which is tied for his third-most saves in a blanking, and his most since a 44-save effort in a 5-0 win over the Washington Capitals on February 7th, 2006. The effort raised his record to 17-11-3. Lundqvist only stopped 17 saves in the loss, which dropped him to an identical 17-11-3 on the season.
New York dished out 38 hits in total to 21 for the Cats, and won two-thirds of the faceoffs, 34-of-51 in total, but Florida proved that defense is what wins games. In addition to Luongo's 40 saves for the game, the Panthers blocked 16 shots to only three for the Blueshirts, led by four from greybeard Willie Mitchell. Dmitry Kulikov nearly cost Florida the shutout with five minutes left in the game, whiffing on a loose puck right in front of Luongo, but Bobby Lou stopped a Nash point-blank shot attempt to preserve the perfect game.
The early return on Gerard Gallant's contract extension was 3-0 win over the Rangers, and the Panthers won their eighth straight game. The Panthers have never won eight in a row before, although they have won seven straight on three occasions.
With 48 points in 38 games, the Panthers are 10 games above .500, which is two games better than anyone else in the Eastern Conference excepting the Washington Capitals. In fact, based on points percentage, the Panthers (.632) trail only the Dallas Stars (.750), the Caps (.776), and the Los Angeles Kings (.684) in the overall NHL standings.
The Panthers have reeled off the 16-points-in-eight-games-trick minus Nick Bjugstad, who looks like he's nearly ready to return to the fold. I almost hesitate when I think about messing with a good thing and all that, not to mention Dave Bolland's imminent return. Even so, the Cats look for a ninth win in a row tomorrow night when they welcome the Minnesota Wild. Florida owns a 4-10-1-2 record against the Wild, good for a .324 winning percentage, which is Florida's worst points percentage against anyone. If ever the Panthers had a chance to break a losing tradition against a certain team, now's the time.
For the short end of the stick find out what Rangers' nation is saying at Blueshirt Banter. Hockey Wilderness has more on the Wild, who dropped a 3-2 shootout to the Tampa Bay Lightning in action last night.