The Florida Panthers pulled their point total to 97 for the season, one short of a franchise record and the same distance from clinching a playoff berth with a 4-3, comeback win over the Montreal Canadiens last night at the BB&T Center.
Brendan Gallagher (19) got things started with 10:14 gone in the opening period with a turnaround slapshot high on Roberto Luongo's glove side. Joel Hanley (6) and Max Pacioretty (31) earned assists on the play to give the Habs a 1-0 lead which would hold through the first intermission.
David Desharnais (11) scored a give-and-go one-timer at the 10:10 mark of the middle frame, beating Luongo stick-side after Paul Byron (7) received a gift-giveaway just outside Florida's zone. Darren Dietz (3) was awarded the secondary assist on the play, which made the score 2-0.
Just over a minute later, the Habs continued to pour it on when Lars Eller (12) stole the puck in Montreal's zone and passed it out to Tomas Plekanic (38). After Plekanic gave it back to him, he fed Torrey Mitchell (11) for a tip-in goal to push the lead out to 3-0.
Florida started to mount the comeback at the 13:13 mark, when Jaromir Jagr (26) scored off a redirection of an Aleksander Barkov (28) one-timer past Mike Condon. Jonathan Huberdeau (37) earned the second assist with a Gretzky-esque setup from behind the net to narrow the lead to two.
Barkov (25) scored Florida's second goal with 34 seconds left in the period, banking home a rebound past a sprawled out Condon to reduce the deficit to one. Aaron Ekblad (17) earned the only helper on the play.
Huberdeau (19) netted the equalizer with less than eight minutes left in regulation, one-timing a Nick Bjugstad (18) feed past Condon to tie the score at three. Barkov (29) also tabbed an assist, his second of the game.
With 29 seconds remaining until the game would have gone to the three-on-three extra period, Barkov (26) gave the Panthers their first and only lead of the game, 4-3. Barkov tipped in an Ekblad (18) shot for the game-winner. Brian Campbell (25) also earned an assist on the play.
Luongo earned the victory, stopping 24 shots for the night, while Condon made 30 saves for the loss.
Poutine and Beavertail
Barkov's four-point night was a career-high, and only the sixth time he had three or more points. He had a game-high-tying six shots-on-goal, also winning 13-of-21 faceoffs.
Huberdeau's multi-point game marked the fifth time in a row that the center-turned winger got onto the scoresheet. It was the 16th time this season that he earned more than one point, and the 39th time in 268 career games.
Ekblad's two assists give him 18 for the season and 45 in 155 games. It was his third multi-point game this year and seventh overall.
Derek MacKenzie won eight-of-13 tries in the faceoff dot, and also dished out a game-high five hits.
Luongo is only three wins behind Jacques Plante for sixth on the NHL's all-time list. He turns 37-years-old tomorrow. His .921 save percentage this season is two points above his career average, and ranks seventh in the circuit this year.
Florida's magic number is now one, and they have a 99.999% chance of earning a playoff berth. This includes a 99.8% chance if the Panthers go 0-4-0 the rest of the way, according to Sports Club Stats.
44 wins for the Panthers marks a franchise high, and their 97 points is just one below their record set in 1999-00. With four games remaining, they have a better-than-average chance to annihilate both marks and earn their second-even division title.
Florida's next victim in line is the Toronto Maple Leafs, a team against which the Panthers have won two-of-three this season. That'll be tomorrow night. Keep checking here for breaking news on the Panthers.