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Luongo backstops Panthers to key 4-1 win over Bruins

After a disappointing effort Monday night at Madison Square Garden, the Florida Panthers, and goaltender Roberto Luongo, survived a shaky start to post a huge 4-1 win over the Boston Bruins, ending a nine-game losing streak at TD Garden.

The victory vaulted the Panthers past the idle Tampa Bay Lightning into first place in the Atlantic Division, with the cross-state Bolts holding a game in hand.

Boston out-shot Florida by a 15-5 margin and took to the power play twice in the first period, but after fighting the puck to start, Luongo found his groove and the Cats were able to kill off both of Dmitry Kulikov‘s minors to get the dressing room tied.

The game’s opening goal came at 7:42 of the second period. After rookie Frank Vatrano left puck for Ryan Spooner, the 24-year-old curled around the periphery of the right circle and whistled a wrist shot past a screened Luongo to put the Bruins ahead. Veteran Loui Eriksson collected the second assist on the play.

Florida answered back 5:09 later, when former Bruin Reilly Smith poked a rebound under Tuukka Rask to complete a well-executed 3-on-2 rush involving linemates Vincent Trocheck and Jussi Jokinen.

Trocheck would strike the decisive blow with 1:14 left in the frame and the Cats down a man. After Alex Petrovic broke up a pass attempt in Florida’s zone, Trocheck gathered in the puck and sped up ice, avoiding the only man back, forward Eriksson, before unleashing a bullet that Rask had no chance of stopping.

The Panthers caught a break midway through the third period when an apparent Bruins’ tally by Patrice Bergeron went to review. The play was ruled no goal on the ice and the video evidence came back from Hockey Operations in Toronto inconclusive. Bergeron swiped a loose puck underneath Luongo, and it sure looked like it crossed the goal line, but the keeper’s leg pad obscured enough of the vulcanized rubber to deny absolute certainty.

Jokinen gave the Cats some breathing room shortly after the review, coming up with a gorgeous deflection goal off of Kulikov’s brilliant slap pass. Steven Kampfer was also credited with an assist for his cross-ice feed to load up Kulikov. Jokinen’s 16th marker and 56th point gave him a share of the team scoring lead.

Jaromir Jagr and Aleksander Barkov combined to set up Jonathan Huberdeau‘s empty-netter with 21 seconds left in regulation to complete the scoring.

In addition to exorcising some serious TD Garden demons, the Panthers opened up a five-point lead on the Bruins, who only have seven games left to play. Perhaps that bulge is enough to make the chase for the Atlantic Division crown a two-team race. The Lightning will burn its game in hand tonight, hosting the New York Islanders, before the two Florida teams clash Saturday at Amalie Arena.

Tea & Honey

  • The win was the Cats’ first in Beantown since Jose Theodore’s 2-0 blanking of the Bruins back on December 8, 2011.
  • Vincent Trocheck’s two-point night gave him 17 points in his last 17 games. Jussi Jokinen has 18 points in his last 15 games, and Reilly Smith has 11 points in 12 March outings. To say the “second” line is on fire would be an understatement.
  • The Panthers got the needed big performance for goaltender Roberto Luongo, who finished with 34 saves. One of Lu’s best was an incredible glove save that came on former Cat Jimmy Hayes‘ attempt to bat the puck out the air from in close. Luongo ended a seven-game losing streak in Boston dating back to 2011.
  • Tuukka Rask made 32 stops for the Bruins, who have lost a season-high five in a row. The B’s have lit the lamp just six times in that span.
  • Dmitry Kulikov was fantasy stats machine last night. In addition to his pretty assist, the defender finished with 3 blocks, a hit, 4 PIM and +2 rating.
  • Staying on the blue-line tip, Steven Kampfer finished with a game-high five blocked shots to go along with an assist, a hit and a +2 rating.
  • The fine folks at war-on-ice have the fancy stats stuff for you right here.
  • Feast your orbs on‘s glorious highlight package.
  • Continue to gobble up last night’s result at Stanley Cup of Chowder. Mmm mmm good./