The surging Florida Panthers beat the Buffalo Sabres by a 5-1 count to extend their franchise-record winning streak to ten, opening up an important six-game road swing in fine fashion. The first place club's 24th victory gave them a five-point lead over Detroit and Montreal in the Atlantic Division.
Roberto Luongo came up with some big saves, including a nice stop after a giveaway to Jack Eichel, early in the first period to help his club gain its road footing after a long holiday season homestand.
The Cats opened the scoring at the 9:45 mark when Jonathan Huberdeau skated by two Sabres in neutral zone and pulled another two towards him in the offensive zone before feeding back across for a Jaromir Jagr one-timer. The goal was Jagr's team-leading fourteenth of the season and 736th career marker.
Buffalo drew even with a power-play goal at 2:44 of the second period. Ryan O'Reilly bagged his sixteenth, with Nick Bjugstad off for hooking, to complete a series of nice passes involving Eichel and defensman Jamie McGinn, who drew the assists.
Florida's fourth line would hit back 6:10 later when Corban Knight took a Alex Petrovic around-the-wall clearing attempt and sprung Derek MacKenzie and Quinton Howden on a 2-on-1 break. MacKenzie was looking shot all the way and it paid off, as the feisty pivot drilled the puck past Linus Ullmark short side for his fourth of the campaign.
That line would strike the decisive blow 5:35 into the third period to put the Cats up by two. Mackenzie fed Howden behind the net with the duo putting on a heavy forecheck and "Q" was able to find Knight open in front and he sniped it by Ullmark for his second as a Panther.
After blocking a shot, Aleksander Barkov sent Huberdeau in alone on Ullmark and the slick winger put a pretty move on the frosh keeper before stuffing the puck home on the forehand for his fifth goal at 16:06.
Brandon Pirri wrapped things up with a empty-net goal, from captain Willie Mitchell, with 1:21 left in regulation. Pirri now has points in three straight games.
The Cats will take their red-hot act to Canada for the next four games, starting with Thursday night's tilt against divisional rival Ottawa.
Wings & Things
- Jonathan Huberdeau continues to impress. After a two-game absence from the score sheet, the winger's two-point night gave him eight points over the last eight games. I have a feeling it won't be long before Huberdeau is the club's leading scorer again.
- Roberto Luongo had another busy outing, finishing with 31 stops to raise his record to 18-11-3. Lu's GAA is now a tidy 2.06 and his save percentage is an impressive .930.
- On that note, the Panthers remain an extremely stingy outfit, giving up a total of just six goals in the last six games.
- In addition to assisting on Buffalo's only tally, rookie sensation Jack Eichel led all players with five shots on goal.
- Linus Ullmark's record fell to 5-10-2. The Swedish rookie turned aside 22 of the 26 shots he faced.
- Alex Petrovic's helper gave him five points on the season, all assists. The rugged defender finished with a game-high four hits, one block and +1 rating.
- Nick Bjugstad was quiet again offensively in his second game back, but the big pivot did help out in the faceoff department, winning 7 of the 10 draws he took.
- war-on-ice has the fancy stats stuff for you right here.
- Go 'round the outside until you hit Die By The Blade for the victim's account of last night's action.
Highlights (courtesy of NHL.com)