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Panthers edge Bruins 3-2 to stay in playoff chase

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Roberto Luongo gets the win in his 1,000th NHL game

Jared McCann’s deflection goal with 5:37 remaining in regulation time gave the Florida Panthers a season-saving 3-2 win over the Boston Bruins Thursday night at the BB&T Center.

Aleksander Barkov opened the scoring 7:42 into the first period when he got open in front to tap home a perfect centering feed from Evgenii Dadonov that capped off a series of passes that saw all five Panther skaters on the ice touch the puck. Aaron Ekblad drew the second assist on the goal, which the 100th of Barkov’s career.

Frank Vatrano added to his new team’s lead a 1:52 later with his sixth of the season. After Tuukka Rask played the puck to Zdeno Chara behind the Boston net, Vatrano and Nick Bjugstad converged on the towering defender and his clearing attempt caught Bjugstad’s skate and ended up on the former Bruin’s stick in front and he backhanded it home.

Mike Matheson took a holding call at 15:05 and it only took the Boston fourteen seconds to cash in on the power play. After playing catch with Patrice Bergeron first, Brad Marchard sent the puck back to Torey Krug at the points and he snapped a high shot towards the goal and rookie sensation Ryan Donato was able to claim the rebound off his own body and stuff it past a sprawling Roberto Luongo.

A turnover by Matheson cost the Cats the lead 2:11 into second period. The young blueliner was looking to outlet to Vincent Trocheck, but his pass was blocked by David Krejci. Jake DeBrusk collected the loose puck and dished it to Krejci, who found Danton Heinen behind the defense and he beat Luongo with a quick wrist shot on the blocker side.

McCann, who was filling in for an injured Barkov on the top line, struck the deciding blow when he redirected Matheson’s fluttering wrister off the ice and up over Rask’s blocker late in the third period. For the third straight game Colton Sceviour was involved in the game-winning goal, making a nice play to get the puck back to Matheson. Sceviour is really taking advantage of his promotion.

Rask foiled breakaway chances by Bjugstad and Trocheck to keep the Bruins within striking distance, but Luongo bettered his counterpart by stopping all fourteen Boston shots, including this late save on Krug, in the final frame to backstop his team to the must-win.

The Panthers came through in the clutch to remain alive going into the final weekend of the season. Florida must beat Buffalo and Philadelphia has to lose in regulation to the New York Rangers on Saturday. The Flyers and Rangers game is in the afternoon, so the Panthers will know what their fate is at puck drop. If those two things happen, the Panthers will need to find a way to beat the Bruins again on Sunday, in what could be a meaningless game for Boston, to claim the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. With Columbus and New Jersey clinching postseason berths last night, there are no other options.

Full Highlights (courtesy of NHL.com)

Tea & Honey

  • Roberto Luongo made 26 saves and became the third goalie in NHL history to play 1,000 games, joining Martin Brodeur and Patrick Roy.
  • In addition to Luongo’s milestone, Brad Marchand played in his 600th NHL game.
  • Aleksander Barkov left the game with 6:45 remaining after being checked into the boards by Colby Cave. His first period goal was his first tally since March 19 versus Montreal.
  • Boston lost three in a row for the first time since losing four straight from November 8-15 and missed out on a chance at the President’s Trophy, which went to Nashville.
  • The Panthers tied a franchise mark with their 26th home victory. The record was set by 1999-00 team.
  • Vincent Trocheck led the Cats with six shots, dished out four hits, and won 16 of 26 faceoffs.
  • For more on the game, help yourself to heaping bowl of Stanley Cup of Chowder. It will taste oh, so good this morning.