Spectacular Smith goal sparks Panthers to 3-1 win over Lightning

Luongo stops 34 as Cats edge cross-state rival

The Florida Panthers remain a tale of two kitties. The version of the team we see at home finds a way to win (for the most part), while the road Cats continue to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory,

That trend held up last night at the BB&T Center as Reilly Smith scored a spectacular go-ahead goal late in the third period, and Roberto Luongo put on a 34-save clinic in Florida’s 3-1 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning.

The Panthers got off to a fast start and took the lead on Jonathan Marchessault’s power-play goal 3:10 into the opening period. After Aleksander Barkov won a faceoff back to Keith Yandle, the shifty defenseman fed Marchessault and he snapped the puck by Ben Bishop for his seventh goal of the season.

Florida continued to test Bishop over the course of the first, but the Bolts keeper settled in and kept the score the same until his team could find their legs.

The second period saw both sides pile up quality scoring chances. Luongo stopped 11 shots during the frame while Bishop turned away 14, including a point-blank stuff attempt by Jared McCann.

Tampa Bay finally solved Luongo 1:15 into the third period, thanks to a gaffe by usually steady defenseman Alex Petrovic. Petrovic was behind his own net when he whiffed on  a clearing attempt. The puck came right out in front where a hungry Ondrej Palat pounced on it and jammed it by an unprepared Luongo.

The goal stunned the Cats, putting them on their heels for a large portion of the period and it looked like another close, but no cigar game against a top-tier Eastern Conference team was going to be the final outcome.

But that was not the case. After a few solid late shifts that produced some near misses, Smith donned the hero cape and led his team to the win with his second goal in as many games.

Smith neatly stole the puck from Victor Hedman at the Bolts blue line, then flipped it by Anton Stralman to free himself up some space before unloading the deciding shot from the left circle that beat Bishop with 4:25 left on the clock, bringing the sparse crowd to their feet and few rats tumbling to the ice.

Derek MacKenzie defused the Lightning for good with an empty-net goal from center ice after Yandle broke up a pass at the Florida blue line and quickly got the puck up his captain. The goal was MacKenzie first of the year and came at the 19:24 mark.

The win got the homestand off to a rousing start and gives the Cats a chance to build some momentum with the San Jose Sharks and New York Islanders coming to twon later this week.

Shock & Awe

  • Maybe it’s the razor? A freshly-shaved Roberto Luongo had his best outing of the season to end a personal four-game losing streak. So much for Movember...
  • Aleksander Barkov’s first period helper ended the top-line pivot’s career-long, eight-game scoreless drought. Hopefully, the assist opens the floodgates for Barkov. He’s due for a break out.
  • Ben Bishop was a brick wall for the Lightning, finishing with 29 saves. Bishop’s fine performance almost sent the Cats to another heartbreaking loss against the Lightning.
  • For the second straight game, Jaromir Jagr started, but didn’t  finish, leaving in the third period. According to Gerard Gallant, it’s another charley horse, this time in the other groin. I’d expect Jagr back on Thursday, but maybe it’s time to give the guy a rest with Jussi Jokinen expected back. Dude is old...
  • Derek MacKenzie goal was his first since he lit the lamp in a 5-3 loss to St. Louis on February 12.
  • In addition to scoring the Bolts only goal, Ondrej Palat had a game-high seven shots and dished out a couple of hits.
  • For the other side in the latest installment of the Battle of Florida, visit our friends at Raw Charge. It’s electric (boogie, woogie, woogie).../